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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.

Letter to Neil Gray MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy

SCVO has written to Neil Gray MSP following his appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy.

Dear Mr Gray

Congratulations on your appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy. I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Holyrood Political Garden Party in 2021 before you took on the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development position. I am delighted to see you take up another portfolio relevant to SCVO and the voluntary sector.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how we collectively ensure that the Scottish Government's approach to economic development recognises the value and potential of Scotland's voluntary sector. 46,500 voluntary organisations employ over 135,000 staff – 5% of the Scottish workforce – and work with over 1.2 million volunteers, with a turnover of £8.5 billion. These organisations are an integral part of today's economy and are essential to the wellbeing economy we want.

Despite the significant contribution of the voluntary sector across all parts of society and Scotland's economy, there is so much more to do to raise understanding and involvement of the voluntary sector in the government's economic policy development. The current gap leads to policies that overlook the sector's needs and contributions, fails to maximise its full potential in economic development, and results in policies favouring more traditional parts of the economy.  

Some of the key areas where challenges remain are:

  • National Strategy for Economic Transformation

Eighteen months on, and we are still waiting to see the voluntary sector adequately integrated into the implementation of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET). Last year, SCVO secured a place for the voluntary sector on the NSET Delivery Board. Still, we had hoped to see a breadth of voluntary sector representation across the NSET workstreams, ensuring that formal structures and processes incorporate sector involvement at all levels.

  • Fair Work

Meaningful engagement of the voluntary sector in shaping economic policies is crucial to ensure they can implement policies into practice without unintended consequences. We

are only months away from all public sector grant recipients needing to pay at least the real Living Wage, yet we still need clarity on how the Scottish Government intends to fund these uplifts. Recently published guidelines fail to clarify which staff connected to an organisation will be covered by the new conditionality. We are also concerned that the burden of proof on voluntary organisations to obtain and provide this information will be a significant barrier without proportionate systems in place. I have enclosed my letter to Richard Lochhead MSP, on 19 January 2023 and look forward to discussing Fair Work with you at our meeting on 20 April.  

  • Economy-focused funds - levelling up funds

While I recognise that Levelling Up and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund are UK Government initiatives, I must raise them with you given your new portfolio. As well as encouraging the UK Government to adopt a longer-term investment approach with Levelling Up, we continue to advocate for local authorities to engage with the sector on this agenda as early as possible. Local authorities must recognise the invaluable role of voluntary organisations in practice. Alignment between the UK Government and the Scottish Government's priorities still needs to be improved. This lack of co-ordination creates an unclear landscape for everyone, and risks gaps and overlaps in crucial support for the voluntary sector. 

SCVO believes in an inclusive and sustainable economy that offers parity of esteem to the voluntary sector, recognising its contributing to inclusive growth, economic transformation and addressing local and regional challenges that others overlook or aren’t best placed to deal with. The sector is integral to the labour market and the Scottish Government's focus on workplace equality and Fair Work. Women make up 64.5% of the sector’s workforce, and 23% of employees have a disability, both far higher than in the private sector. 

The voluntary sector's contribution to Scotland's economy and social infrastructure is significant, and its potential is even greater. I’m looking forward to our discussion about Fair Work, and would also welcome an opportunity to discuss how the Scottish Government can better harness the voluntary sector to build the wellbeing economy I know you and the Government want to achieve. Scotland's voluntary sector has the capability and capacity to support economic recovery in a way that is inclusive, sustainable, and good for environmental and human wellbeing. But the lack of recognition and support for the sector's economic contribution and fundamental role in our society's functions undermines those aspirations. We must address this to ensure Scotland's economic recovery is successful for all.

I look forward to working with you in your new role.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Fowlie

Last modified on 16 April 2024