Since the elections in May, I’ve heard Scottish Ministers talk about Scotland’s economic, health and social recovery from Covid as a “joint endeavour.” That we must “lift our eyes from the immediate and look towards recovery, creating fair work, addressing poverty and inequality.” That sounds like something the voluntary sector will be all over. “We’re on it” I hear you cry!
A highlight of the recent election campaign for me was cross-party recognition of the integral role of the voluntary – or third – sector in the fabric of Scotland’s economy and society. But since then, all I’ve heard about is the vital role of “business.” This was evident at the National Economic Forum in June, and again in the announcement of the Council for Economic Transformation. It’s not very transformational if it overlooks a fundamental aspect of Scotland’s DNA. It also perpetuates a distracting division – surely, we’re all included in the collective endeavour, whether we work in a factory, a council or a charity.
Voluntary organisations, national and local, contribute to every aspect of society from social care and health to housing, from nature and the environment to sport and the arts. We employ over 100,000 people not to mention harnessing the expertise of over a million volunteers. We have a significant presence in retail, hospitality and tourism.
I’ve participated in several roundtables with where senior people from the public and private sectors have earnestly stated – as if it were news – that we need to speak about poverty, digital inclusion, partnership working etc etc. In my view, reflected more eloquently in SCVO trustee, Adam Lang’s recent blog reflecting on 10 years since the Christie Commission, is that there’s been plenty talking. We’ve got a plethora of reports from groups of the great and the good, success stories from communities – not to mention manifesto commitments. The question isn’t “what do we need to do?” it’s “how do we make it happen?”
That’s why I’ve written to the Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy setting out our sector’s stall. I’m not rehashing old arguments or calling for more thinking; I’m not complaining about a lack of money (tempting though that is). I’m saying this is what charities, community groups and social enterprises are doing to make Scotland’s recovery inclusive, focused on wellbeing and economic growth – where people and communities are thriving. What we are doing and how that could be even better, not what we ought to talk about.
The voluntary sector is up for collective endeavour. As Adam Lang said in his blog “we know what needs to be done and how to get there. It’s on us now to deliver. The need is urgent. It’s time to be bold and radical in order to deliver the change we need.”