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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.

We cannot forget that the call was for an independent review of charity regulation

In August, the Charities (Administration and Regulation) (Scotland) Act 2023 received Royal Assent. It was the result of a lengthy process, beginning with a consultation on OSCR’s original proposals in 2019, and culminating in the bill moving at pace through its final parliamentary stages in the summer of last year. And throughout that process, SCVO continued to call for something that we believe has long been required, something of great importance to the voluntary sector in Scotland – a wider review of charity regulation.

That is why we were pleased when the Scottish Government agreed to our calls, committing in late 2022 to such a review once the aforementioned bill had completed its legislative journey. And, encouragingly, conversations between the government and the sector were kicked off at the Gathering in November, during which Scottish Government officials engaged with voluntary organisations on how best to reach the length and breadth of our sector.

We’ve been told that the review is likely to last for the remainder of this Parliament, meaning that any tangible results are not likely to be shared until at least 2026. The Scottish Government suggests that this is required because the review has to be thorough and worthwhile, and so the time taken must reflect that. Whatever your view is on the proposed timescales, it does feel that the wheels of motion are at least progressing beyond a simple Scottish Government commitment, which is of course not always the case.

But despite this apparent progress, no matter how slight that may be so far, there is one aspect of the forthcoming wider review that appears to have been forgotten almost overnight and deserves to be brought back into the spotlight. This crucial, comprehensive, and holistic review should also be independent.

When I gave evidence to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee on the bill in March last year, my seat was barely warm before Pam Duncan-Glancy asked me about a wider review. “The review must be independent,” I replied. “We recognise that there is a wide range of opinion on what the review could involve, but the recommendations that come out of it must be independently set and not crafted by government – and certainly not by a handful of organisations such as ours.”

That was a point further explored by MSPs during their questioning of both myself and others giving evidence on that and subsequent days. In the committee’s Stage 1 report on the bill, following those evidence sessions, it was confirmed that “stakeholders explicitly stated the review must be independent and carried out in consultation with a wide range of people and organisations across the third sector…” Indeed, during the Stage 1 debate on the bill, SNP MSP Collette Stevenson, in her role as convenor of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, confirmed to the Parliament that “witnesses made it clear that it is essential that any review is independent”.

So, while there may be discussions underway to lay the groundwork that will subsequently lead into engaging that wide range of people and organisations as part of the review, a veil of silence appears to have fallen over the accompanying belief that the review must be independent. Whether that key point has been forgotten, or conveniently ignored, is anybody’s guess – but it’s something that must be acknowledged. With that in mind, we await eagerly the Scottish Government’s response to Paul O’Kane’s presently unanswered written question on whether the review will indeed be conducted independently.

Because the Scottish Government’s response to that question is incredibly important. We cannot simply ignore the fact that those from within the voluntary sector have made it clear that this review must be independent. It’s a point that needs serious consideration, it’s a point that needs a full explanation in rebuttal if it is not to be implemented, and it is a point that SCVO will continue to remind the Scottish Government of as the preparations for this vital review are put in place.

Last modified on 16 April 2024