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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

SCVO response to the inquiry into Public Administration – Effective Scottish Government decision-making (Finance & Public Administration Committee)


Over the past 18 months SCVO has worked with its members, as well as partners across local and national governments, to gather information and data on collaboration and partnership working across sectors. Evidence from these reports can be found throughout our submission which largely focuses on the importance of engaging the voluntary sector in the Scottish Government decision-making process. All reports can be found on SCVO’s website for more information:

The reports above all clearly identify four main themes that underpin the relationships between the public and voluntary sectors. These are time, power, trust and value. We therefore must focus on these elements and consider their impact. To support an effective decision-making process within the Scottish Government, SCVO advises the committee to consider how the government should: 

  • Recognise the value of voluntary organisations by respecting the sector as a peer, by acknowledging its size and diversity, and by learning from the ways of working fostered by the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Encourage civil servants to develop a better understanding of the sector’s role and remit by working more closely with the sector (across directorates and at all levels) and identify the best ways to do this collaboratively. 
  • Develop new guidance setting out expectations of the government and of those who wish to engage with it, including the voluntary sector (considering terms of references for working groups, length of time to respond to consultations etc). This would lead to greater and more meaningful engagement with voluntary organisations. 
  • Ensure transparency of decisions and information across all its directorates by recording and publishing data as appropriate. 
  • Communicate more clearly with stakeholders by regularly sharing key contacts available to voluntary organisations and providing information in writing in a timely manner. 
  • Acknowledge that it takes time to build good relationships and trust, but that it is essential to be able to have open and honest conversations between colleagues and partners.  

Our position

What are key methodologies, processes and principles that should underpin an effective decision-making process in Government? 

Parameters for partnership working  

To ensure that the voluntary sector, and the communities it works with, are best supported, policy and legislation must be developed collaboratively. Involvement of the voluntary sector, transparency, and parity of esteem are principles that should underpin any effective decision-making process. The evidence review conducted last year as part of the Strengthening Collaboration work found that partnership working between statutory and voluntary sector partners requires attention: 

‘Third sector organisations felt that public sector organisations were not trusting them, local government stakeholders felt not trusted by the Scottish Government and this lack of trust led to various restrictions in funding agreements, such as funding having to be spent on pre-specified projects, and extensive monitoring of how the money was spent. One third sector interviewee said: “[Everyone says] if we had the funding issue resolved, everything would be better, but I don’t think it is that. I think that's slightly an avoidance strategy so we don’t have to talk about the real stuff, about trust and about power and about who has it.” 

Supporting Collaboration, page 22

Focusing on the Scottish Government, the Compact between the Scottish Government and the third sector in 2004 is the last time we are aware of specific guidelines and expectations that were written down about Scottish Government engagement with the voluntary sector.  Since 2004, however, a considerable body of work has been developed around engagement, in particular moving to a focus on co-production that moves thinking around engagement further up the ‘ladder of participation’. A particularly impactful piece of work on this subject is the National Standards for Community Engagement. It is important that any work in this area draws on that thinking and moves further than the 2004 Compact’s focus on consultation.  

SCVO believes that it would be helpful to have some guidance setting out expectations of the government and of those who wish to engage with it, including our sector. Whether such a document would have to be specific to the voluntary sector may be worth further discussion, but there could also be general engagement standards that would apply to the sector, as well as other stakeholders; the key issue here would be for all sectors to be genuinely involved in drafting such guidance, and for mechanisms to exist to hold the Scottish Government (and engaging partners) to account where these standards are not adhered to. 

While we would not wish to prejudge those conversations, issues that we know to be talked about in parts of the sector (which we anticipate might come into discussions about reshaping traditional engagement methods) include the points listed below: 

  • Ensuring that longer term engagement processes like working groups allow sufficient time to build relationships, trust and understanding between the voluntary sector and the Scottish Government. Sectors must fully understand processes they are contributing to and must each understand the barriers/drivers of other partners. The Scottish Government must also be clear about the scope for influence that voluntary organisations have on a process – and must seek to involve them as early as they can so that this influence is as great as possible. 
  • Not setting unrealistic expectations on one individual or organisation to represent the views of the diverse voluntary sector.  Ideally a range of voluntary organisations should be directly involved to bring their different perspectives.  If there is a representative expectation, properly resourced structures and processes must be put in place to facilitate the involvement of the wider sector (including sufficient time for the representative to share papers and seek feedback). 
  • Exploring options for resourcing engagement, particularly where this is a long term and time intensive commitment.  Many voluntary organisations struggle to attract funding for core costs, and freeing up staff time to take part may be prohibitive without resources. 
  • Setting, and following, clear expectations about the length of time for voluntary organisations, and others, to respond to consultations. Current timescales for consultation responses are much shorter than the 90 days agreed in the 2004 Compact. A sample of 100 consultation found that fewer than 1 in 5 adhered to this standard:
    • less than 30 days – 6 consultations;  
    • 30 – 59 days – 17 consultations;  
    • 60 – 79 days – 17 consultations;   
    • 80 – 89 – 41 consultations;  
    • 90 or more – 19 consultations 

We would also anticipate a desire from the sector to think innovatively about different forms of engagement, bringing in their experiences of working creatively with the people and communities they support. 

Trust and parity of esteem 

Genuine parity of esteem amongst stakeholders would lead to more effective decision-making processes.  Currently the lack of recognition of the voluntary sector’s fundamental role in how our society and the economy function remains. This works against achieving that parity of esteem. It must therefore be addressed to ensure that all actors feel valued as part of the decision-making process and not just an afterthought. To achieve this, not only do we need to recognise the current imbalance of power existing between sectors, but we must also acknowledge that it takes time to build relationships and trust amongst partners. 

On these points it was rather striking to hear the evidence from several witnesses in front of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee in December last year. That session looked at the Local Governance Review and below are some extracts that are worth noting in terms of how councillors describe their own relationships with the Scottish Government. Comments made during that session are interesting to point out as they echo our own evidence throughout this submission:  

‘When we are involved from the beginning of the process, we can contribute to there being better outcomes, better policy and a better steer on where we want to go. However, if we are involved only once plans have, essentially, been formulated, I think that it is very difficult to change those plans and we do not necessarily get the best outcomes’. 

Councillor Alex Nicoll (Aberdeen City Council)

‘Someone said that it is about communities trusting government. Trust needs to bounce back down—we need to trust communities more than they need to trust us. That is important—it is about trust filtering down. Yes, more can be done. […] It is a journey that is still in progress. To hit the right spot, there must be more conversations between communities, national government and local government.’  

Councillor Euan Jardine (Scottish Borders Council)

‘I absolutely concur that we need to find a new modus operandi. I cast my mind back to the concordat, which was decided very quickly, and that released us into a place where we focused on outcomes. We need to reinvent that or look at it as quickly as we can’.  

Councillor James Stockan (Orkney Islands Council)

‘The partnership agreement must not be just “warm words”. We want to see that reflected in behaviours and actions. A partnership agreement in writing—a document—is not the end goal. We want a different relationship that is reflected in subsequent actions.’ 

Cleland Sneddon (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers)

The last quote raises the issue of implementation.  As more and more concerns are raised about the policy implementation gap in Scotland, we need to bear in mind that guidance or agreement of any kind must be translated into actions. It will not be enough for reviewed or new decision-making processes to be outlined on paper; we need to see change in practice too. On one hand this leads to important questions regarding the commitment from the Scottish Government itself to 1) accept that change is needed, and 2) spend time, effort, and resources on improving processes. On the other it also implies greater acknowledgement and respect for the role of the voluntary sector in Scotland.  

What are the capabilities and skills necessary for civil servants to support effective decision-making, and in what ways could these be developed further? 

When it comes to the capabilities and skills of civil servants, data indicate that good relationships rely on individuals remaining in post for longer periods of time, thus allowing them to get to know the organisation they support properly. Some organisations also value relations at strategic level with civil servants who can effectively influence the system. Mutual trust also allows for more open and honest conversations and greater understanding between partners. 

Time as a commodity 

It is always positive to hear of good relationships between civil servants and people working in voluntary organisations. As the evidence below indicates, good partnerships rely on good relationships.  

‘Our key contact has stayed the same for the last seven years, which helps.’

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 21

Third sector organisations recognised that ‘better relationships’ had time/resource implications for themselves, but also highlighted the need to build capacity within public sector (staff with time, understanding, values who engage with third sector) and how to embed relationships that go beyond the interpersonal.’’

Organisational Profiles, page 9

‘We have really good relations with the civil servants we work with. They recognise we do great work, and we feel valued. They trust us and they are grateful.” 

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 22 

Time is a very important factor in enabling such supportive relationships. Civil servants, like anyone else, need time to build trust and improve the quality of their relationships with voluntary organisations. As a society we need to value time to improve decision-making. 

If everybody is acknowledging that the only way we can get things done is to do that through good positive relationships, that trusting environment that happens on a one-to-one basis predominantly, […] but we don’t put any effort in actually fostering that, we don’t value it enough to put in time, it feels to me like we’re tripping over our own feet.’

Supporting Collaboration, page 27

Effective decision-making also relies on the recognition that voluntary organisations are not just about delivery and that they must be involved as early as possible in processes to ensure that policies best serve people across Scotland. To do this, time and resources are essential. In the Supporting Collaboration evidence review, ‘time’ and ‘listening’ are noted as key elements to build trusted relationships. But as one stakeholder explains: 

‘Despite the importance of collaborative working, the funding received by the third sector organisations does not recognise that building trusted relationships takes time and typically funding does not allow time for it. This again creates lack of trust between the third sector and their funders, and reduces the scope for effective collaboration.’

Supporting Collaboration, page 17

Influencing system-change 

Another important point that is raised in the evidence is about power and how much influence civil servants themselves hold within the Scottish Government structure. Some intermediaries argue that there needs to be ‘visible relationships and partnership from senior civil servants who have power’ (Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 5). The Organisational Profiles report also advises that the sector needs: 

‘Relationships with officers who are knowledgeable and who are interested in getting the best outcomes for people in Scotland, but relationships which are: 
Strategic — single point of contact at strategic level and a person who can influence/make decisions/make things happen within public sector organisations. 
Embedded rather than ‘personal’ relationships — there needs to be succession planning for strategic relationships with the third sector’.

Organisational Profiles, page 9

Greater understanding of the voluntary sector 

Moreover people value civil servants who understand their work, their organisation, and the significant contribution the sector makes to the Scottish society and economy.  

‘While third sector organisations reported generally positive relationships with the Scottish Government, they highlighted several key issues relating to quality/purpose of relationships. The quality of the relationship with the Scottish Government was often dependent on having a ‘good person’ in Scottish Government. Where the quality of relationships was less good or challenging, third sector organisations highlighted that Scottish Government staff often had gaps in skill/experience/knowledge about the third sector and therefore a lack of understanding about how their actions/decisions impacted on third sector organisations’

Supporting Collaboration, page 7

A lack of understanding of the role and remit of voluntary organisations in Scotland can lead to some in the sector feeling neglected, and not valued as worthy contributors. It is also important to note that it would be helpful for the voluntary sector itself to get a better understanding of how the Scottish Government works and how decisions are indeed taken. Ultimately this also influences the way relationships are developing and how trust is strengthened. As pointed out in the Supporting Collaboration evidence review:  

The research suggests that inadequate understanding between third sector organisations and public sector organisations about the statutory duties and operational challenges that each sector faces can impede meaningful collaboration’.

Supporting Collaboration, page 6

SCVO would be happy to discuss how best to achieve a greater understanding of the voluntary sector amongst civil servants with colleagues in the Scottish Government. Last year SCVO and the TSI Scotland Network published a guide introducing the voluntary sector to MSPs; developing similar resources jointly might be a good starting point to support staff learning and development. 

More open and honest conversations 

Greater understanding between sectors will also come with, and lead to, more open and honest conversations between partners.  

“I think that's where partnership working is developed, where you don’t have to be on your best behaviour all the time, [you can] talk honestly with people, agree to disagree on certain things, but work together on the things that you can work together on. […] It’s not always sweetness and light, there will be disagreements.’  

Supporting Collaboration, page 25

We need to encourage people to invest and spend time on developing partnership-working and learning from it. In 2021, Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) ran the Working Together Better project. It was a peer learning programme to help third sector organisations and their statutory sector partners evaluate and learn about the impact of their partnerships during the Covid-19 crisis. ESS then published two case studies that outline the experiences and reflections from participants on their collaboration. In one of the projects, when reflecting on why they were able to share knowledge and resolve issues better during the pandemic, one participant explains:  

“We think this is because our communications were focused on closing the gap between operational issues and strategic issues. Before the pandemic, it wasn’t always clear how Scottish Prison Service used third sector feedback. It felt like it went into the ether. We have a clearer understanding now of how information from partners is fed in.” 

ESS Case Studies - Partnership

We need more of this because as one interviewee in the evidence review noted:  

“Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to flourish, whatever that means. […] I’m not a big fan of describing the world in three sectors, I think that starts out by dividing us. I’d much rather see us as citizens who want to collaborate and the legal status of our employer should be pretty irrelevant”.  

Supporting Collaboration, page 26

What are the behaviours and culture that promote effective decision-making? 

The voluntary sector must be acknowledged as a respected peer, and not simply tolerated. To achieve this SCVO believes that we need a much greater understanding across sectors, (and therefore including within the Scottish Government) of charities, community groups and social enterprises, why they exist and the difference they make in society. Importantly the focus of this inquiry also brings to the fore questions that might feel uncomfortable to ask, such as: are we more likely to get effective decision-making in times of acute crisis? 

Genuine partnership 

The value of the sector as a partner across all areas within the Scottish Government must be recognised, and not simply be seen as (and limited to) the remit of the Third Sector Unit. This is apparent in the Supporting Collaboration evidence review too which notes that meaningful collaboration relies on a better understanding between sectors, equal partnership, open communication, empowerment of community and trusted relationships.  

‘Recognising that the third sector has different and complementary strengths could lead to a more productive and collaborative working relationship. As one local government interviewee said: “It should be spheres in partnership, not tiers. When you have tiers, you then have the whole issue around power and who has power and influence.”

Supporting Collaboration, page 23

It will come as no surprise that there is also evidence suggesting that the Scottish Government works in silos, with not enough cross-cutting collaboration and relationships (at all levels) that would help towards greater consistency, alignment and accountability. This must change. Indeed it is important to emphasise that work must be done across all portfolios and directorates within the Scottish Government to improve decision-making across the board. Where there is good practice this must be shared more widely too.  

The Scottish Government also needs to acknowledge the size and variety of the voluntary sector in Scotland, as well as limited capacity and resources in some voluntary organisations. As an example, when inviting people and/or organisations to take part in working groups, there should be more than one seat available for the sector at those tables. One individual cannot be seen as representing the views, interests and concerns of more than 45,000 organisations across Scotland.  This is neither fair on the person invited to take part in discussions, nor on the rest of the sector when businesses, local government and Scottish Government usually have several attendees.  

As an example, last year SCVO secured a place for the voluntary sector on the NSET Delivery Board, and Ewan Aitken (Chief Executive Officer of Cyrenians) now sits on the delivery board as a voice for the sector. This was a welcomed move. Since then, SCVO has been working with Ewan to get a sense of how best to support him and draw in broader voices from the sector across the different NSET workstreams and working groups. Nonetheless we remain concerned that the voluntary sector has not been integrated into the work of the NSET from the outset compared to other sectors. We are hopeful that we can secure a breadth of third sector representation across the NSET workstreams, to ensure that voluntary sector engagement is not bolted but is embedded in formal structures and processes. 

Attitude to risk 

Finally, the Scottish Government’s attitude to risk may also need to be considered. We often hear how the pandemic impacted on the relationships between public and voluntary sectors. As one stakeholder notices: 

“[During COVID-19] we didn’t do anything that was illegal, that was fraudulent, that was non-compliant, and we still managed to do it quickly and efficiently. So I think it comes back to the very first point that I spoke about, trust. People were trusted and when we don’t have trust, we put in all these rules and regulations and check points that are often unnecessary, just because we don’t trust people. And if Scottish Government put that and UK government put that on to local government, we then put that on the third sector […] and it just becomes that chain.”

Supporting Collaboration, page 21

In the sector we heard evidence that, for some organisations, Covid-19 led to better relationships with partners, with more trust and better funding arrangements. And yet, we also start hearing testimonials about how those relationships are now going back to the way they were pre-covid.  

‘There were concerns that these positive changes from the pandemic will not be retained going forward. Interviewees questioned how the more collaborative working approach, increased trust and the feeling of everyone being in it together could be maintained between sectors with some third sector interviewees feeling it was not likely to continue: “The barrier is a lack of a pandemic or the lack of a crisis, which is kind of cynical, but I think there’s an element of truth in that.”

Supporting Collaboration, page 30 

‘COVID-19 brought changes to a lot of the issues […], as many of the usual barriers to working together were put aside to focus on helping as many people as possible. In a recent article reviewing progress in the ten years since the Christie Report was published, Audit Scotland said: “But it’s also important to ask why that happened. The answer? Because it was life and death. There was a clear imperative that trumped everything else. It would be another tragedy if the same urgency wasn't now applied to poverty, education, health and strengthening our communities’

Supporting Collaboration, page 29

One may wonder if the perceived lack of urgency now acts as a barrier to partnership working, and effective decision-making. To try and answer this, it is important to learn about what worked well and what did not over the past three years across Scotland. As such we believe that the Scotland Covid-19 inquiry is important and will perhaps also outline ways of working across sectors that are worth developing further going forward.  

What is best practice in relation to what information is recorded, by whom and how should it be used to support effective decision-making? 

It should go without saying that effective decision-making should be based on reliable data and sources of information. Voluntary organisations spend a significant amount of time sharing information with the Scottish Government, yet too often it remains unclear to us how that information is used. We need more transparency and accountability. 


In 2019, in its report Looking ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2020-21: Valuing the Third Sector, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee highlighted that: 

‘Several organisations […] questioned whether any of the monitoring undertaken by the third sector was being checked or made use of by statutory funders to inform policy and/or services. It seemed significant amounts of data were collected locally but were not used to inform local or central equalities or human rights policies’.  

Looking ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2020-21: Valuing the Third Sector

It goes on to note that: 

‘It was emphasised that as third sector organisations worked with communities, they produced rich data, but were scared to share it with other organisations because of competition for funding. They also suggested the Scottish Government could take a broader view of data. Concern was expressed over how the Scottish Government viewed data submitted by third sector organisations’.  

Looking ahead to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2020-21: Valuing the Third Sector

SCVO is of the view that recording and publishing data is important and work towards greater transparency and accountability. This is an issue that is relevant regarding funding for the sector for example and is essential to understand decisions made regarding the Scottish budget process. Transparent, accessible data would highlight the Scottish Government’s significant investment in voluntary organisations. Ministers and civil servants regularly use SCVO figures to underline the scale of the Scottish Government’s direct funding to the voluntary sector – approximately £500m a year. The use of these figures suggests official figures from the Scottish Government are not available. SCVO is of the view that addressing this significant gap in the Scottish Government's understanding of funding flows to the voluntary sector is crucial for the spending in the budget to be appropriately identified, tracked, and understood. 

We understand that improvements to fiscal data and information accessibility are already underway involving key Scottish Government experts in the Scottish Exchequer. This work covers public spending, procurement, fiscal transparency, and the budget. Enhancing the accessibility of information relating to the Scottish Government’s voluntary sector funding fits with the Scottish Government’s existing commitment to budget improvement – its Fiscal Transparency Programme – including a Fiscal Portal and its development of the Procurement Management Information Platform. We believe the Third Sector Unit and Scottish Exchequer must work together to deliver joined-up practical solutions. 


However, we believe that this focus is not a priority area for the Fiscal Transparency Programme at this time and we have not received a response to the recommendations we made in our submission to inform the 2022 Programme for Government; this highlights another issue with a lack of two-way communication and feedback relating to the information provided by voluntary organisations. On many occasions, it is unclear whether a contribution to policy development in the form of a policy submission has been considered and whether it will be used as input for future policy discussions. There needs to be adequate guidelines and practices in place when handling key evidence provided by voluntary organisations in order to maintain value in this type of engagement. 

What does effective decision-making by the Scottish Government ‘look like’ and how should it learn from what has worked well and not so well? Please share any best practice examples. 

We must build a new type of relationship between all sectors, where the voluntary sector is valued as both a service provider, an economic actor and a key contributor to thinking on the future of our society. Decisions made about Scotland’s future must be designed with us and our beneficiaries in local and national partnerships.  

Programme for Government 

The call for better partnership working (that would lead to more effective decision making) is an issue that SCVO has raised many times over the years in our interactions with both local and national governments. Most recently we saw progress regarding engagement with the sector on the Programme for Government (PfG). As Sheghley Ogilvie from SCVO explained in a blog post last year:  

‘I’ve often heard the Programme for Government described as, ‘smoke and mirrors’, an elusive process that’s difficult to engage with and influence. Disappointment often follows publication paired with frustration among voluntary sector colleagues that the sector is neither recognised nor resourced.’ 

Sheghley Ogilvie, SCVO

We therefore welcomed the Scottish Government engagement with SCVO on this last year. A new team in charge of PfG welcomed the opportunity to discuss Scottish Government’s internal processes with us. Following these discussions, SCVO arranged a packed out  Policy Network session where our members could meet the Programme for Government Unit Team Lead, ask questions, and begin to consider their proposals.  Teams from both SCVO and Scottish Government took part in a webinar (and will be again this year). It is important that more events and activities of this nature are organised to explain how to engage with crucial Scottish Government activities. We could even have more standardised information that is easy to access by all – such as videos, guides etc on how to get involved with the PfG for example. 

Positive partnerships 

SCVO has also gathered more examples of positive partnerships over the past couple of years. Although these focused on partnerships between the voluntary sector and local government, strong relationships, time and trust are again key features throughout these testimonials. 

To what extent should there be similarities or differences in the process for decision-making across the Scottish Government? 

While the tools for involving the voluntary sector might differ across directorates/units/ teams, ultimately there should be a principle at the core of the Scottish Government’s decision-making process that stresses the need (and urgency) to genuinely engage with a wide range of stakeholders, with parity across sectors. They should also be a consistent approach regarding decisions across Scottish Government to avoid a two-tier system and sometimes significant consequences for the sector as outlined below: 

‘The Scottish Government should also investigate why the funding experiences felt by voluntary organisations is far superior in some areas compared with others and take steps to remedy this.’

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 26 

‘The lack of straightforward and timely processes in decision-making by the Scottish Government presents a significant barrier to the planning and delivery of projects and services and supporting the workforce. When decisions relating to funding are made, this can often slip into the new financial year. Organisations must chase the Scottish Government for decisions, and they feel as though it is a constant battle to secure a timely decision. Even when a decision is made, organisations are often left waiting months for the payment of funds to reach their accounts, meaning that those unable to dip into their reserves or other income sources are left in extreme difficulty.’

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 10-11 

What role should ‘critical challenge’ have in Government decision-making, when should it be used in the process and who should provide it? 

Reviewing current decision-making processes might give more people opportunities to act as ‘critical friends’ to the Scottish Government. Voluntary organisations have a key role to play in this space as the voice of communities across Scotland. However, it is also a role that some in the sector can find challenging. 

Critical role of charities 

Recently Anna Fowlie, SCVO Chief Executive, reflected on the importance of that role for charities in Third Force News

‘Charities are an important voice for the people and communities they support. It is integral to their purpose to speak up and act to draw attention to the challenges those people face, regardless of how they are funded. Whatever one’s views are on a particular policy, it should come as no surprise when charities support or criticise the decisions of any government, be that in Scotland, Westminster, or across the world, if those decisions have an impact on the people they represent. 
Charities in Scotland have a long history of influencing the UK and Scottish Governments, and don’t shy away from criticising the decisions taken in Holyrood. We celebrate the sector working with – while also being prepared to challenge, debate, persuade and influence – the Scottish Parliament. Charities have a unique depth of knowledge and evidence to contribute to the public discourse, and their right to use that must be protected.’  

Anna Fowlie, SCVO


The issue of funding and being critical of the Scottish Government decisions is also a topic worth noting on this subject. While it is not everyone’s experience (and voluntary organisations are still free to campaign), throughout the reports it is interesting to note that several participants expressed concerns about their ability to challenge government while receiving funding from them. For some there is a feeling that this is a fine line to tread: 

‘They need to be able to provide evidence of need/and also demonstrate where policy and practice are not working without that being seen as challenging Scottish Government, but there is potential to be seen as ‘biting the hand that feeds you’.

Organisational Profiles, page 16

‘Interviewees noted that the fact that the public sector awards funding to the third sector can create a power imbalance, with the public sector being perceived to have more power in the relationship. Some interviewees felt that this sometimes created an expectation that the public sector funder might seek to direct the work of the third sector organisations involved, or to make all the decisions around a policy or a project’

Supporting Collaboration, page 6  

‘We’re meant to be a critical friend of Scottish Government but do they need a critical friend? Do they see the need of a critical friend? It’s a fine line when it comes to funding relationships.’

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 13

In that sense some argue that: 

‘There is a need to clarify /codify the purpose and expectations of relationships between Scottish Government and the third sector and embed these relationships rather than relying on ‘good individuals.’

Organisational Profiles, page 10 

What is considered the most appropriate way of taking account of risk as part of effective Government decision-making? 

The benefits of delivering any public policy result in financial and other costs elsewhere. The obvious cost is a financial one, but there are usually other costs which can take all manner of forms (e.g., choice, competition, provision). It is important that robust options appraisals that explore the costs/benefits of potential public policy solutions and budgetary spend are utilised and consulted on to arrive at a combination of well-balanced, effective, and practical solutions. Policymakers and voluntary organisations must understand any trade-offs before a course of action is taken.  

While we would like to hope that such appraisals are adopted by civil servants before taking decisions to end programmes and change spending allocations, very rarely are voluntary organisations given sight of these exercises. For example, the 2022/2023 Scottish Budget reduced the Third Sector Budget Line by £800,000, to £25.8 million, yet the impact of the budget reduction was unclear. If cuts are coming, we need to know where they will fall as soon as possible so we can assess whether it will be possible to deliver the commitments in the Programme for Government and those made elsewhere. 

Positives in the Scottish Government’s approach to considering risk as part of effective government decision-making can be found in its latest consultation response on Access to Information Rights. SCVO is still developing its response to two consultations on the topic of extension of Freedom of Information to voluntary organisations. However, the government’s latest consultation does reflect on the concerns that SCVO and other voluntary organisations raised in a consultation in 2019. It is a good example of the Scottish Government reflecting on a range of perspectives and consulting on alternative approaches as part of policy development around a particular policy area.  

How can transparency of the decision-making process be improved? 

Voluntary organisations also play a crucial role in monitoring the decision-making of the Scottish Government and the progress that is made towards achieving public policy aims. While bodies such as SCVO do this in part by listening to the experiences of voluntary organisations across Scotland, the Scottish Government can play a more active role in supporting the transparency of information. 

Key contacts 

As we argued in our answer to question 5, the engagement process leading to the Programme for Government (PfG) is improving and this can be used as one example of how to increase transparency in the decision-making process. But, as we noted then, there are still improvements that could be made. To help increase the transparency of decision making within the Scottish Government, key contacts could be shared with organisations. We understand, for example, that the PfG team receives policy proposals from other Scottish Government policy teams. Because of this you need to have a contact within a Scottish Government policy team to be able to engage with the PfG. There is a big assumption that everyone has this or knows who to contact but many do not.  

Funding transparency 

To enable colleagues across the voluntary sector to understand spending decisions and assess their impact, the Scottish Government should work towards developing a transparent approach to monitoring and reporting, including collecting information across all Scottish Government departments to form an accurate picture of how much funding flows into the voluntary sector and from which budget lines. SCVO is of the view that greater transparency is needed to improve our understanding of the Scottish Government funding process. As evidence suggests:  

‘Large organisations such as the Scottish Government may provide several simultaneous grants to the same organisation from different departments, with no single organisational contact maintaining a full overview of the funding being provided to a given organisation. Moreover, there is also no single body maintaining a full overview of the funding provided to the third sector organisations by other funders, such as charitable foundations or the UK government. This can lead to overlaps in funded work, as well as under/over funding in certain areas’. 

Supporting Collaboration, page 19)

‘There should be transparency around which intermediaries are being funded, by which departments, non-departmental public bodies, and third-party organisations, and by how much’

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 25

Funding transparency would support SCVO and other voluntary organisations to:   

  • understand Scottish Government decisions   
  • assess the impact of budget changes    
  • understand any Scottish Government action to mitigate risk and the extent to which these actions are successful.  

To enable colleagues across the voluntary sector to understand spending decisions and assess their impact, the Scottish Government should:   

  • collect information across all government departments to get an accurate picture of how much funding flows to the voluntary sector and from which budget lines 
  • calculate and publish its total direct funding of voluntary organisations for grants and procured contracts 
  • produce a breakdown of which Scottish Government budget lines provide funding to the voluntary sector. 

Small-scale change could be made relatively quickly by holders of budget lines. The Third Sector Unit should have a role in gathering this information and should publish an accurate picture of how their budget line – the Third Sector Fiscal Resource Budget Line – flows to different projects and organisations.    

The Social Renewal Advisory Board’s Third Sector Circle recommendation that Scottish Government funding of the voluntary sector across all Scottish Government departments and local government should be published on the 360 Giving platform - a platform where organisations openly publish grants data- should also be implemented. The Scottish Government published its emergency funding awards on 360 Giving during the pandemic, and the Scottish Government and other public bodies should roll this out across budget-lines. The Scottish Government could link these actions to its existing commitment to Fiscal Openness and Transparency in the Open Government Action Plan.  

Furthermore, SCVO is engaging with the Scottish Government’s fiscal transparency programme, part of its Open Government Action Plan. SCVO welcome involvement in this and the Scottish Government’s commitment to improving transparency and participation in the Budget and Budget process. Most recently, we attended a deep dive session on the Scottish Government prototype for a fiscal transparency portal and left the meeting with a sense that civil servants are as committed to improving transparency as those who are calling for more. It is essential that improvement programmes such as this are fully resourced and are not apportioned a shoestring budget that can only go so far, whether that’s investment to build a fiscal transparency portal to cover all Scottish Government spend, or in the systems that are needed to ensure there is a sustainable data supply for this to work.    

How can decision by the Scottish Government be more effectively communicated with stakeholders? 

The voluntary sector needs more streamlined and consistent approaches to ensure a level playing field for all organisations, and this also applies to communications from the Scottish Government. Without good communication, none of the issues outlined in the previous questions will ever be addressed as it should.  

Communication brings recognition 

Good communication brings recognition and better relations, thus leading to more trusting relationships between partners. It is also important to remember that communication is a two-way process. 

‘Transparency and communication can support a process that allows for a shared understanding to emerge over time, allowing collaborative partners to focus on common goals instead of competing for resources and/or power and influence’.

Supporting Collaboration, page 25

Moreover, as noted before, the balance of power between the Scottish Government and the voluntary sector is undermined by various factors, including funding. For some organisations in our sector, Scottish Government’s decisions are synonymous with survival or extinction and the way those decisions are communicated matters enormously.  

‘Administratively, all the looking for funding and chasing Scottish Government decisions takes up time. The additional work following up civil servants is also a burden – we don’t want to come across as a pest, but we must keep at them’.

Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 19

Evidence from intermediaries explains that providing written documentation for effective and consistent communication, as well as good quality communications with civil servants at all levels and in all relevant teams are factors that would contribute to good funding relationships (Case study of voluntary sector intermediaries, page 4-5). 

SCVO therefore calls on the Scottish Government to provide organisations with timely communication (and prompt payment of funds) that would help to prevent funding gaps and uncertainty. 


Rachel Le Noan

Policy & Public Affairs Officer

Last modified on 16 April 2024