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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.

Improving transparency in partnership

Earlier this year, SCVO responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on access to information rights in Scotland - a process designed to collect the views of stakeholders on the need for future legislative change in relation to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, future change that included the possibility of extension to parts of the voluntary sector. At the same time, we also took the opportunity to respond to the consultation on Katy Clark’s Proposed Freedom of Information Reform (Scotland) Bill – again, including within it proposals that sought to extend Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to voluntary organisations.

Our position has remained consistent. We recognise the critical importance of transparency and accountability - but in a way that is proportionate. We have been clear that recent calls to extend FOI legislation to voluntary organisations would inevitably draw on the already stretched resources they rely on to deliver vital services in communities across Scotland. And we have continually re-iterated that a broad, one-size-fits-all approach is simply not feasible or realistic, as it fails to deliver targeted and proportionate regulation across a unique sector.

We live in a world where we have never been more connected, and information has never been as readily available.  And yet, most of us would agree that we still need better access to the very information that would allow for genuine accountability and transparency across society. The voluntary sector is no different. There is a strong consensus among voluntary organisations that accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance, with a shared belief that the sector should approach any related proposals with an open mind, eager to find solutions that will ensure progress in those areas.

However, too often, the true nature of the environment in which voluntary organisations operate and the barriers they face every day are overlooked in policy-making. When it comes to FOI, well-meaning ideas about what should apply to the voluntary sector too often don’t properly account for the reality voluntary organisations face.

Anxiety and uncertainty flows from unsustainable and unfair funding approaches, capacity is stretched to its limits, organisations fear for their very existence, and staff and volunteers battle against understandable burnout while doing all they can to meet increased demand for their services. Against this backdrop, any reform would have to be designed in partnership with the sector, taking into full consideration the multitude of solutions required to alleviate additional burdens.

In any policy area, the onus should not be on the voluntary sector to adapt to unrealistic legislation. Instead, it is the responsibility of legislators to make sure that any proposals brought forward both recognise the uniqueness of the sector and are designed in a spirit of partnership.

Katy Clark’s Proposed Freedom of Information Reform (Scotland) Bill has now been lodged at Parliament. We welcome the Bill’s consultation analysis that acknowledges the issues raised by voluntary organisations but we remain concerned by any proposals that do not fully reflect the reality faced by Scotland’s voluntary sector and fail to avoid increasing burden indiscriminately.

We do, however, welcome the Scottish Government’s recent decision to park its own legislative proposals following its consultation. There are now plans to consult on the extension of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act to private and third sector providers of care homes and care-at-home services specifically, following passage of the National Care Service Bill.

In response to that news, the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland’s CEO, Rachel Cackett, has commented: “We have to remember that FOI legislation was not written for our sector of diverse providers and so any changes need to be made with us or it simply won’t work as intended”. It may have been an observation regarding the care sector in particular, but in truth it is just as relevant to the voluntary sector as a whole.

Last modified on 16 April 2024