The past few years have been a whirlwind of escalating crises. The climate crisis, COVID pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis have heightened existing inequalities, and the unequal impact of these crises mean the most marginalised and vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected.
Tackling systemic issues such as poverty and inequality, the climate crisis, a just transition to a net-zero economy, and shifting to an inclusive wellbeing economy, is intrinsic to the work of charities, community organisations, and social enterprises.
SCVO welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to an economic approach which focuses on tackling inequalities, championing sustainability, and promoting greater equity within society by ensuring that institutions and economic strategies retain wealth within communities.
Community Wealth Building (CWB) legislation touches upon several key issues that impact the sector and which are a primary focus of SCVO's policy work, such as Fair Funding and procurement, Fair Work, the sector’s role in the economy, and partnership working with local and national government, alongside other areas that will be covered more extensively by other voluntary organisations responding to this consultation.
It should also be recognised that principles around CWB are not new to the sector, as many voluntary organisations already address issues related to the five pillars or fulfil the role of an anchor organisation by employing local people, delivering services, and purchasing goods and services.
As a national level organisation, we recognise that CWB is an inherently localised approach, delivered on the ground by local charities and social enterprises alongside other bodies, and we point to the vital role that Third Sector Interface (TSI) organisations play in this process. In this context, TSIs operating across Scotland’s 32 local authority areas need to be key partners in developing local (and/or regional) CWB strategies and action plans and in supporting front line third sector delivery organisations to support CWB ambitions.
SCVO is committed to amplifying the views of the sector, championing the needs of the sector in legislation, and through our Chief Executive Anna Fowlie’s role on the Scottish Government’s Community Wealth Building Steering Group, to ensuring national legislation reflects what is needed in communities.
Our submission draws on evidence gathered from:
SCVO welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Building Community Wealth in Scotland. Further detail on our response is below. Our recommendations are:
Q1A. The duty to advance Community Wealth Building should take option C.
Recommendation: The Scottish Government, local authorities, and all other public bodies should be covered by the proposals, and there should be consideration of the role that other bodies, such as commissions or commissioners in Scotland will play.
Recommendation: Prescribed public bodies should be required to disclose the percentage of budgets and resources allocated to delivering CWB. Local authorities should audit their existing budgets to highlight where they are already investing in CWB, to establish a baseline and ensure new CWB activity and investment can be measured. Greater clarity is needed on how private sector interests will be monitored, and how non-statutory anchor organisations with a significant financial footprint in local areas will be kept accountable.
Recommendation: CWB needs to be communicated in simple and accessible terms, so communities and the voluntary sector understand what CWB is, how it involves them, and how they can participate. Community engagement and awareness raising, particularly amongst marginalised groups that are likely to benefit most from CWB activities, is important, and there needs to be funding to support this.
Recommendation: Voluntary organisations are best placed to understand the needs of their communities, and their experience, knowledge and reach must be acknowledged and valued by local authorities and other prescribed public bodies. There need to be clear mechanisms in place for this feedback to be reported, so the collective experience and knowledge of communities and the sector is visible and can be used to inform CWB planning and delivery.
Recommendation: Local authorities are often seen as barriers to collaborative work due to unequal funding relationships and tokenistic engagement with the sector. Our engagement with TSIs in CWB pilot areas reveals little work has been done to include the sector in CWB action planning and delivery. Partnership working between sectors must be improved to ensure the meaningful involvement of local communities and the voluntary sector in the implementation of the duty.
Q1B. SCVO is in favour of statutory and non-statutory guidance around the implementation of Community Wealth Building duties.
Recommendation: Policy makers should focus on the implementation, improvement and coherence of existing legislation and prioritise coherence and action across each of the five pillars in equal measure. Guidance is needed to support this.
Recommendation: Statutory guidance is needed to ensure there is a clear-cut role for voluntary sector collaboration at the highest level of CWB decision making, so engagement with the sector is not tokenistic, and the voluntary sector is represented as an equal partner. Engagement with communities and the sector needs to be prescribed and required, and not just advised.
Recommendation: It should be a statutory requirement to include the sector and communities in the development of local (and/or regional) CWB strategies and action plans. TSIs are well placed to be key partners in this and to support front line third sector delivery organisaitons to support CWB ambitions. The sector needs to be supported with the correct infrastructure and resourcing to facilitate, lead and participate in CWB activities.
Recommendation: Public bodies need statutory guidance on guidelines for reporting around CWB strategies and action plans, and greater transparency around budget allocation. Non-statutory anchor organisations need guidance on reporting and measuring the impact.
Q2A. Non-legislative measures around culture change are required to accelerate the implementation of the Community Wealth Building approach in Scotland.
Recommendation: Culture change is needed to recognise the expertise, experience and reach of the voluntary sector. The Scottish Government, Ministers, MSPs and civil servants have a big role to play in instigating culture change to support CWB principles and processes and improve partnership working across sectors and encourage collaboration in decision making.
Recommendation: The Scottish Government need to lead by example and embed CWB principles in all levels of their work. From budgets and procurement to current and future legislative frameworks, they must strive to ensure policy coherence with relevant national level strategies such as the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) and the National Performance Framework (NPF).
Recommendations: Practical on the ground case studies of CWB in Scotland are crucial to help people understand what CWB means, what the benefits are, and if conditions can be replicated and scaled.
Q3. The law can be changed to advance the voluntary sector’s ability to participate in procurement as part of the spending pillar of Community Wealth Building.
Recommendation: Longstanding barriers to procurement leave many voluntary organisations hesitant to get involved in public procurement. Funding pressures across sectors have instilled a narrative of scarcity which impacts the sector’s relationship with government. Key issues need to be addressed to enhance the voluntary sector's ability to participate.
Recommendation: To enhance the sector’s ability to participate, procurement application processes need to be more accessible, and we need transparent approaches to monitoring and reporting. Cross-sector partnership between the voluntary, public, and private sectors should be central to new commissioning and procurement models, and appropriate minimum contract standards for the provision of publicly funded services across sectors should be developed and agreed upon.
Recommendation: Public procurement contracts should: place social, environmental, and economic factors on a level footing with cost in contract arrangements; include resources to pay the real Living Wage and an annual inflationary uplift; offer longer-term funding of three years or more with flexible unrestricted funding and timely payments; guarantee full cost recovery.
Recommendation: To bring public procurement in line with the Scottish Government’s Fair Work ambitions, responsibility should be placed on commissioners to provide the support needed to realise the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Principles, and procurement contracts should no longer include non-committal frameworks, which run counter to the Fair Work agenda.
Recommendation: To understand where spend is going, Public Contracts Scotland needs to be updated so it is mandatory for organisations on the portal to indicate what sector they are in. The statutory guidance on how public bodies report on procurement and CWB also needs to include the voluntary sector.
Recommendation: Public partners need to use the full legislative levers and guidance at their disposal to maximise the social impact of their spending power. CWB action plans should explicitly commit to using the flexibilities in commissioning and procurement to enhance local supply chain development and encourage greater collaboration in design and delivery of public services and support for our communities.
Q4. The Scottish Government's Fair Work ambitions could advance the workforce pillar of Community Wealth Building but must take account of what is needed to enable voluntary organisations to meet these ambitions.
Recommendation: The Scottish Government should ensure public grants and contracts pay uplifts for voluntary sector staff on par with those offered to the public sector, meet the new Living Wage rate, and resource Living Wage uplifts in grant funding and contracts as part of the expansion of the Fair Work First criteria.
Recommendation: More should also be done to work with the voluntary sector to understand the challenges it encounters in paying the Living Wage, to develop solutions, and to ensure Fair Work First, and its expansion to include the Living Wage, are understood.
Recommendation: CWB legislation should acknowledge the benefits of volunteering to individuals, organisations, local communities, and Scottish society, and recognise volunteers as a key part of the CWB workforce, to ensure that the specific needs of volunteers are met, whilst also putting in place measures to ensure volunteering continues to thrive.
Q5. Volunteers must be properly supported to engage with Community Asset Transfer and ownership to advance the land and property pillar of Community Wealth Building.
Recommendation: Committed funding is needed to help train, develop and support volunteers and trustees to support engagement with Community Asset Transfer and ownership.
Recommendation: Community Asset Transfer and ownership should reflect the Volunteer Charter developed by Volunteer Scotland and STUC which sets out key principles for assuring legitimacy and preventing the exploitation of workers and volunteers.
Q7. To advance the finance pillar of Community Wealth Building, financial institutions and services need to work for the communities and organisations they serve.
Recommendation: We must see cross sector collaboration across the private, public and voluntary sector to ensure that local organisations have access to banking, to support the good governance of voluntary organisations and charitable money.
Recommendation: The Scottish Government can do more to work with the UK Government to improve the sector’s access to banking and financial services. This includes parity in the design and access of new and existing sources of finance – such as the Scottish National Investment Bank – and establishing opportunities for long-term strategic partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors.
Following the engagement we have undertaken with voluntary organisations close to CWB, we believe that the duty should take option C - a union requiring Scottish Ministers and prescribed public bodies to embed CWB into corporate plans and strategies, and a duty requiring public sector bodies statutorily obliged to be involved in community planning to produce a CWB strategy and action plan.
The Scottish Government, local authorities, and all other public bodies, including enterprise agencies and health authorities, should be covered by the proposals. There should also be consideration of the role that other bodies, such as commissions or commissioners in Scotland, will play to ensure that CWB approaches overcome short-term issues to deliver long-term impacts. For example, the future generations commissioner, which is in the Scottish Government's Programme for Government, could play a role in learning, collaboration, and ensuring progress is made.
We support option C because it covers three key issues: accountability, inclusion and partnership.
Accountability and Transparency
To ensure accountability for implementation, we need transparency through budgeting, statutory duties and robust measuring and reporting.
Organisations in the sector are concerned that CWB may be used as just another badge and won’t lead to meaningful progress. Local authorities should audit their existing budgets to highlight where they are already investing in CWB, to establish a baseline and ensure new CWB activity and investment can be measured.
There is concern over how non-statutory anchor organisations, such as large businesses, will be held to account with their CWB commitments, when large business interests can often differ or directly oppose the needs of communities in, for example, urban developments. Greater clarity is needed on how private sector interests will be monitored, and how non-statutory anchor organisations with a significant financial footprint in local areas will be kept accountable.
Prescribed public bodies should be required to disclose the percentage of budgets and resources allocated to delivering CWB. Greater transparency would enable voluntary sector organisations to consider areas where the Scottish Government could improve funding models and work with the government to find solutions based on the sector’s expertise, experience and evidence. Without greater transparency, it is difficult to assess the impact of CWB budgetary decisions, and there is less accountability.
Inclusion of Voluntary Sector and Communities
SCVO supports calls from other organisations, such as that of Social Enterprise Scotland, on the need for regular and ongoing local and national public awareness-raising campaigns. CWB needs to be communicated in simple and accessible terms, so communities and the voluntary sector understand what CWB is, how it involves them, and how they can participate. Meaningful engagement with the voluntary sector should be prioritised as our sector is best placed to understand the communities we are working in and affect change.
Third Sector Interface (TSI) organisations play a crucial role in engaging the sector and the community, and supporting, educating, and upskilling local charities and social enterprises to participate in CWB. Resources are needed to support this education and engagement work. TSIs should also be involved in the planning and delivery of CWB plans and strategies to make sure initiatives are rolled out fairly and to the benefit of communities. It has been suggested that involvement in CWB could be a statutory duty for TSIs. If this option is to be further explored, it will be vital to ensure that proper resourcing of TSIs to carry out this work is a key part of the discussion.
Community engagement and awareness raising, particularly amongst marginalised groups that are likely to benefit most from CWB activities, is important, and there needs to be funding to support this. A balance needs to be found by ensuring that opportunities are not just available to established anchor organisations and community groups, and that policies and approaches do not further ingrain competition and gatekeeping around grant funding and contracts, which will only widen inequalities.
To ensure the involvement of local communities and the voluntary sector in the implementation of the duty, we must focus on improving partnership working between the sector and local authorities. Voluntary sector organisations are best placed to understand the needs of their communities, and their experience, knowledge and reach must be acknowledged and valued.
Our engagement with the sector on this issue has revealed that local authorities are often seen as a barrier to collaborative work. This is influenced by the power imbalance that comes with funding relationships, and how local authorities are seen to be responsible for voluntary sector budget cuts. Many organisations also feel that engagement with the sector is tokenistic, as the sector is invited to consult on issues but is rarely told how their feedback is used, or if it is used at all, which leads to organisations feeling like they are not listened to.
Many TSIs operating in CWB pilot areas have said that their local authority has never reached out to include them in discussions around action plans. One TSI in a key pilot area reflected that they were sometimes forgotten in the delivery side of CWB, and it was difficult for them to get in touch with the procurement team.
Involving voluntary organisations in local partnerships is crucial to ensure accountability and that decision making at a local level is in line with the needs of communities. There should be a statutory requirement to include the third sector and communities in the development of local strategies and action plans in their locality and/or region, but the sector needs to be supported with the correct infrastructure and resourcing to play this role. There also need to be clear mechanisms in place for this feedback to be reported, so the collective experience and knowledge of communities and the sector is visible and can be used to inform CWB planning and delivery.
Voluntary organisations in localities need additional support to play key roles on bodies/groups responsible for CWB in their areas. Third sector involvement in Regional Economic Partnerships, City and Region Growth Deals, Community Planning Partnerships and other mechanisms for local involvement of the sector is often patchy and depends on the locality. The Scottish Government should not expect the inclusion of third sector involvement in these forums to be a silver bullet to sector involvement in CWB.
Yes. SCVO are in favour of statutory and non-statutory guidance around the implementation of CWB duties.
Organisations we engaged with expressed the desire to ‘not reinvent the wheel’ and to focus on the implementation, improvement and coherence of existing legislation. The key benefit of CWB and having a five-pillar approach is that it is a coherent and holistic way to bring together things which have previously been siloed. Coherence and action across each of the five pillars in equal measure should be a priority for public bodies and anchor organisations.
Guidance is needed to ensure different pieces of legislation and the five pillars are working together and that public bodies are breaching silos. Guidance can also support the Scottish Parliament, commissioners and the voluntary sector, in holding key public bodies to account for what is expected of them.
Partnership working between sectors will be crucial to the success of CWB. Our response to Q1A outlines some of the key challenges TSIs and other voluntary sector organisations have had while working with their local authorities.
Guidance is crucial to ensure that voluntary sector involvement is not tokenistic. If local authorities use existing forums to engage the sector in CWB, such as Community Planning Partnerships or Regional Economic Partnerships, there needs to be adequate sector involvement in these.
Non-statutory guidance for partnership working and the inclusion of the sector is not enough, as we have heard from the sector that guidance for existing legislation which outlines the need to include the sector is not followed. When the sector has been consulted, it has felt like a box ticking exercise. Including the sector in these initiatives is not a priority because the sector is not seen as an equal and valued partner.
Statutory guidance is needed to ensure there is a clear-cut role for voluntary sector collaboration at the highest level of CWB decision making, and the voluntary sector is represented as an equal partner. The sector has a huge role to play in engaging communities and influencing culture change but that cannot be done from a position of inferiority. Engagement with communities and the sector needs to be prescribed and required, and not just advised, and the sector needs to be properly resourced and supported to participate.
Action plans were identified as an area in which more work could be done. SCVO’s engagement with TSIs in pilot areas has revealed that many have not been consulted or included in the planning of local authority CWB action plans, or in the delivery of activities, even though there is supposed to be third sector engagement. This is not a unique issue and is one that is reflected through the engagement of the voluntary sector in the development of Investment Plans for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Statutory guidance is needed to ensure the voluntary sector and communities are consulted on in the planning and delivery of CWB action plans.
Guidance is needed around how CWB will be reported and measured. As an example, one organisation told SCVO that businesses which are required to invest a certain amount of money back into the community through community benefits or other schemes, such as housing developers, need to be held accountable to their commitments, and guidance around reporting is a mechanism to do that.
Public bodies need statutory guidance on guidelines for reporting around CWB strategies and action plans, and greater transparency around budget allocation. Non-statutory anchor organisations need guidance on reporting and measuring the impact.
Yes. For CWB to have the transformative effect it promises, culture change needs to be prioritised. We need to overcome an outdated, hierarchical approach, which does not currently recognise the expertise, experience, and reach of all parties/sectors equally.
SCVO has undertaken work with its members and partners across local and national government to gather information and data on collaboration and partnership working across sectors. Evidence from these reports suggests:
The Scottish Government need to lead by example and embed CWB principles in all levels of their work. From budgets, procurement and reporting practices to current and future legislative frameworks to ensure policy coherence with relevant national level strategies such as the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) and the National Performance Framework (NPF).
The Scottish Government, Ministers, MSPs and civil servants have a big role to play in instigating culture change to support CWB principles and processes and improve partnership working across sectors and encourage collaboration in decision making. Involvement of the voluntary sector, transparency, and parity of esteem are principles that should underpin any effective decision-making process.
As the main drivers of CWB, local authorities, voluntary organisations and TSI’s need to be properly supported and resourced to facilitate and lead CWB activities. Many participants we spoke to specified the need for practical on-the-ground case studies. One charity reflected:
“If Community Wealth Building is a permanent agenda, then we need to be able to point to places where people can learn about what it means in reality. People want to know what it looks like, what are the benefits, what difference it has made, and what levels of poverty have been improved.”
Yes. The voluntary sector is a significant partner in delivering essential procured public services across Scotland and voluntary organisations have the potential to step in as flexible local providers to fulfil contracts which meet CWB ambitions. Key issues need to be addressed to enhance the voluntary sector's ability to participate.
SCVO has highlighted problems with the commissioning and procurement of services from the voluntary sector for many years, most recently in our response to the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee in January 2021. Voluntary sector organisations across Scotland continue to feel constrained, pressured, and under-valued by current procurement processes. The result, amongst other consequences, is uncertainty and financial pressure on organisations, creating negative outcomes for staff, volunteers, and the communities the sector works with.
Commissioning and procurement practices focused on the lowest cost of service delivery undermine the sector’s ability to adopt the Fair Work Principles. These challenges include competitive tendering, one-year contracts, and the lack of full cost recovery, with insufficient support to cover the Living Wage and static funding without inflation-based uplifts. Similarly, non-committal frameworks create uncertainty for voluntary organisations, resulting in precarious work and disempowering workers.
The picture is complicated, not helped by the funding pressures on local authorities and elsewhere over recent years. A scarcity narrative runs deep, not only fostering competition within the sector, but also across sectors, and severely impacts the sector’s relationship with local government. There is concern amongst the sector that CWB ambitions could evolve into a cost cutting exercise, where the sector and volunteers are either excluded from service delivery or seen as a cheaper option.
Recent engagement with the sector on procurement and CWB reveals that while there is some willingness to participate in public procurement, longstanding barriers leave many voluntary organisations hesitant to get involved in the process.
Participants we spoke to echoed SCVO’s previously stated concerns around competitive procurement. Using and accessing the Public Contracts Scotland portal also emerged as a barrier to participation for smaller groups who felt they didn’t have the staff or finances to get involved. If an organisation can access Public Contracts Scotland, the next challenge is not being able to bid for contracts because they are too big.
A TSI organisation in a key urban CWB pilot area disclosed that:
“The head of procurement for the NHS in my area was willing to open contracts locally, but her challenge was around who could fulfill these contracts. If she wants a million sheets washed, who can do that? Our response was that you have to break it down into smaller contracts, however she said that this would cost them more time and money.”
Barriers to procurement mean there are fewer voluntary and community organisations available to fulfil public contracts. Procurement processes need to change, and more capacity building for the sector and communities needs to be done.
To support and enhance the voluntary sector’s capacity and desire to bid for public sector contracts, procurement contracts should:
To understand where spend is going, Public Contracts Scotland needs to be updated so it’s mandatory for organisations on the portal to indicate what sector they are in. There is guidance on what public bodies need to report on, but the voluntary sector does not feature highly on that. The statutory guidance on how public bodies report on procurement and CWB needs to include the voluntary sector.
Community benefits are an example of how good partnership working between the public, private and voluntary sector can deliver CWB ambitions and fulfil the needs of local communities. Many local statutory organisations or businesses will include community benefits as part of the tendering and procurement process when awarding contracts to suppliers. Our engagement has found that TSIs often play a central role in developing or pushing forward community benefit initiatives, by creating/hosting community benefits wish lists for charities in their local area and connecting organisations with groups in need.
There is concern from some in the sector that community benefits are not economically transformative enough. Community benefits have an important role to play in procurement processes but cannot be a mask for the systemic changes needed to transition to a wellbeing economy.
To deliver CWB, public partners need to use the full legislative levers and guidance at their disposal to maximise the social impact of their spending power. This should include more third sector market engagement and working with TSIs to facilitate better engagement and capacity building across all sectors. In addition, CWB action plans should explicitly commit to using the flexibilities in commissioning and procurement to enhance local supply chains development and encourage greater collaboration in design and delivery of public services and supports for our communities.
SCVO support Social Enterprise Scotland’s recommendation that public bodies must insist on transparent, genuine and meaningful community benefits in any private sector contract, monitoring success or failure to deliver.
SCVO welcomes the Scottish Government’s ambition to become a Fair Work nation by 2025, a commitment renewed in the Scottish Government’s policy prospectus, New leadership – A fresh start.
Scotland’s voluntary sector employs over 135,000 paid staff who support people and communities across Scotland. Fair Work, including the real Living Wage, for this essential workforce should be a priority. SCVO wants to ensure Scottish voluntary organisations have the tools and support they need to provide Fair Work for this workforce.
SCVO has highlighted the importance of Fair Work in our Fair Work Nation consultation response in 2021, and more recently in our Programme for Government proposals, and Budget Briefing.
Fair Work and Fair Funding within the voluntary sector are inherently linked. Years of underfunding, followed by Covid 19, and the running costs crisis, mean that for many voluntary sector employers paying the Living Wage cannot be achieved without allocated resources.
A significant number of people employed in the sector are funded by public sector grants and contracts. To pay the Living Wage and realise Fair Work, public grant funding and procured contracts should build in a Living Wage uplift to ensure organisations delivering public services and other vital support are able to pay the Living Wage.
The Scottish Government should ensure public grants and contracts:
More should also be done to work with the voluntary sector to understand the challenges it encounters in paying the Living Wage, develop solutions, and ensure Fair Work First, and its expansion to include the Living Wage, are understood.
SCVO also supports the call in Volunteer Scotland’s submission for volunteers to be recognised as a key part of the CWB workforce within CWB legislation. The 2021 Scottish Household Survey results revealed that 30% of Scotland’s adult volunteers support activity in their local communities. This equates to approximately 370,000 people investing their time in communities, which will often, in turn, generate wealth. As we describe in response to question 5, as trustees, volunteers provide governance for the many thousands of community organisations that operate across Scotland. Explicit recognition of volunteers in CWB legislation will help to ensure that the specific needs of volunteers are met, whilst also putting in place measures to ensure volunteering continues to thrive.
SCVO supports Citizens Advice Scotland’s position that the value of volunteering must be recognised, not just as a means of delivering services, but as a means of empowering local people by giving them opportunities to volunteer, give back to their communities and build their skills. The benefits of volunteering to individuals, organisations, local communities, and Scottish society, must be recognised.
The sector is also a significant contributor to the employability landscape delivering skills development and employability programmes that reach communities most at risk of exclusion from the labour market.
This is not an area that SCVO has specific expertise in and other organisations in the sector responding to this consultation will be best placed to give detailed input. However, SCVO picked up a number of comments relating to this area during our engagement.
There are concerns around the stress and undue responsibility of volunteers taking over assets previously managed by paid staff, and Community Asset Transfers being pushed onto groups which aren’t capable or ready. Community empowerment beyond just the transfer of assets is not happening fast or deep enough, and community asset ownership cannot be a mask for the erosion of public services.
Many communities are totally reliant on volunteers to operate and be trustees of community owned enterprises and businesses. Trustees of community assets need to understand the liabilities and responsibilities they are taking. Committed funding is needed to help train, develop and support volunteers and trustees to support engagement with community asset ownership.
Community Asset Transfer and ownership should also reflect the Volunteer Charter developed by Volunteer Scotland and STUC. The Charter sets out the 10 key principles for assuring legitimacy and preventing exploitation of workers and volunteers. These principles help to underpin good relations within a volunteering environment by ensuring volunteer roles are appropriate and do not replace or undermine the sustainability of paid roles.
Policy coherence between community wealth building legislation and community planning legislation and locality plans should be prioritised.
This is not an area that SCVO has specific expertise in and other organisations in the sector that are responding to this consultation will be best placed to give detailed input.
Retaining wealth locally is only one half of the equation; financial institutions and services also need to work for the communities and organisations they serve.
Access to banking is a key challenge for voluntary sector organisations across Scotland and the UK. Charities are facing an increase in fees for basic transactions, misleading and inconsistent information within and across branches, poor customer service, and a push towards online banking and cashless systems without the provision of adequate services to make that transition possible.
Even basic financial needs, such as finding and opening a suitable bank account, depositing cash with ease, and being able to change trustee account signatories, are not being met. This is exacerbated by the fact that over half of Scotland’s bank branches have closed since 2015, and there are no branches in 11 parliamentary constituencies across the UK, including Glasgow North East.
OSCR revealed in 2021 that banking issues were a key impact of Covid on the sector in Scotland. New charities struggled to identify and open suitable accounts, which prevented many from being able to apply for or be awarded grants at a crucial time. The reduction of service hours and local branch closures also presented a significant challenge particularly when many online banking services do not offer dual authorisation – a fundamental requirement for most organisations in the sector.
The banking landscape is only becoming harder for voluntary organisations to navigate. We must see cross sector collaboration across the private, public and third sector to remedy this issue, to support the good governance of voluntary organisations and charitable money. SCVO, alongside other voluntary representatives across the UK, have been working with UK Finance and a broad cross-section of banking providers on a new Community Banking Project to address and work through some of these issues, but it should be recognised that these problems are a product of wider systemic challenges which need to be addressed.
While financial services are a reserved issue, the Scottish Government can do more to work with the UK Government to improve the sector’s access to banking and financial services. This includes parity in the design and access of new and existing sources of finance – such as the Scottish National Investment Bank – and establishing opportunities for long-term strategic partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors.
The Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) is an excellent illustration of this lack of parity. Despite the sector’s success in securing provisions in the SNIB Act to ensure voluntary organisations can access the bank, it has been incredibly difficult to challenge the private sector and commercially focussed narrative surrounding the bank. We must consider how the voluntary sector – which includes social enterprises, community interest companies and registered charities – can locate the support needed to access patient finance, not only through the SNIB but other existing or potentially new alternatives. The missions of this new bank must also support the economic recovery from Covid and the cost-of-living crisis as part of our efforts to ensure that existing infrastructure and resources are utilised.
If CWB is a means to reset the Scottish economy to the benefit of society, then wider economic ecosystem and structures need to be part of this transition and change. We can’t achieve our wellbeing economy objectives if existing financial institutions and structures stay the same.