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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.

Reflections from SCVO's #EssentialSector parliamentary reception

I’m reflecting on our parliamentary reception this week, hosted by Paul O’Kane MSP, showcasing our Essential Sector campaign and the value of the Scottish Third Sector Tracker. I’ve been to a lot of events in the parliament over the years and they are generally cheerful celebratory affairs. The speeches might contain some asks of government, but they tend not to be too challenging. That makes for a pleasant evening.

Ours felt a bit different. We showed the films created using mobile phones by community organisations with support from SCVO and Media Co-Op. Two of the featured organisations spoke – Emma Hutton from Just Right Scotland and Alex Abiodun from Afro Scot Relief. The films showed the great work that’s happening in the voluntary sector, and the speakers revealed the invisible reality behind making that happen. The endless cycle of chasing funding, the short-term solutions creating precarious work, uncertainty for staff, volunteers and the communities they work with.

That’s why having Paul host the event was so valuable. As someone with significant experience in the sector prior to being elected, he is well aware of the joy and the challenge of the sector.

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley Anne Somerville MSP, gave a passionate response to what she heard. I very much appreciate her clear commitment and hard work to support our sector in a challenging context. Her contribution at the event, and throughout my dealings with her, while of course defending the government’s position, show she is up for the challenge and an advocate for our sector inside government.

On the night, we were focused on the role of Scottish Government. We were in the seat of government after all. However, it’s important to remember that the financial environment for most voluntary organisations isn’t directly dependent on Scottish Government. The cost-of-living crisis has impacted significantly on public donations, and local authorities are cutting local funding, while demand increases with charities expected to fill the gap left by cuts to public services. Independent funders have their part to play too.

In my mind, there is no lack of political will to support the voluntary sector in Scotland, including with a more sustainable funding environment, but something is preventing it happening. We can blame the system, but the system is made up of people. It’s people who make, interpret and enforce “the rules”. Despite what democratically elected politicians want to happen, something risk averse and bureaucratic is subverting that democratic will.

We understand that definite commitments can’t be made on grants until the Budget is passed by parliament, but once that is in place there should be no reason that decisions can’t be implemented. It’s not too much to ask that people working in charities and community organisations know whether they’ve still got a job, and that the people and causes they support have some sort of certainty.

Published on 22 April 2024