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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.

SCVO Letter to John Swinney MSP, First Minister of Scotland

Dear First Minister

Congratulations on your election as First Minister of Scotland.  I very much look forward to working with you again in this new role, and I am very pleased that Shirley-Anne Somerville has retained her role as Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice.

We were delighted to see you announce your candidacy for the SNP leadership at our friends, the Grassmarket Project, and I know from our conversations in your time as Deputy First Minister/Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy and in working on Covid Recovery that you take a keen interest in supporting Scotland’s voluntary sector.  As First Minister, you have a crucial role to play in ensuring the sustainability and development of our essential sector, and I urge you to build on the work of your predecessor, and previous SNP administrations, in recognising the vital role our sector plays in Scotland’s economy and in delivering public services.  In particular, I hope that you will ensure that progress towards Fair Funding for the sector happens at scale and at pace. Ms Somerville has been championing this work in Cabinet and I’m sure will continue to do so.

If you weren’t in the chamber when it took place, I would encourage you to look back at the debate in the parliament led by your colleague, Kate Forbes, on the role of the third sector in the economy and to read the RSE’s report on the subject published in December. I hope Ms Forbes will bring that understanding to her new role as DFM and Economy Cabinet Secretary.

On Fair Funding, work began this year to ensure that all voluntary organisations funded by the Scottish Government were notified of decisions regarding their funding by 31 March.  Our intelligence suggests that, while progress has been made in a few government departments, this target has not been met in most portfolios.  We are working with officials in the Third Sector Unit to better understand the internal barriers to this commitment, to ensure that the commitment can be met ahead of the next financial year.  In addition, we will push for this deadline to be brought forward to December, to give funded organisations sufficient time to plan, and to avoid the threat of redundancy hanging over their staff, or to achieve better managed endings where that is necessary.  I am confident we can rely on your support as we work with officials in government to make good on this political commitment.

Voluntary organisations were very heartened to hear from the former First Minister at The Gathering in November that they could expect progress on multi-year funding to be made in the 2024-25 Scottish budget.  As decisions about multi-year funding were then deferred to the Medium-Term Financial Strategy, we look forward to seeing the detail on how this commitment will be implemented later this month. 

While the provision of multi-year funding would make an enormous difference to Scotland’s voluntary sector, it’s not a silver bullet.  As laid out in our Fair Funding principles, truly transformative funding arrangements would include provision for grants and contracts to be uplifted for inflation, terms to be flexible to changing needs, and funding to be available for core costs.  We look forward to working with your officials over time to address these long-standing issues.

In the meantime, I urge you to ensure that Ministers’ commitments on timely notifications and multi-year funding are implemented by officials.  These changes would clearly signal your support for the sector, without directly requiring an increase in spending.    Any dilution of these commitments would be a significant blow and damage the sector’s relationships with government.

As you will be aware, our sector is facing unprecedented challenges. Years of under-funding and poor funding practices, and crises such as the pandemic and the cost-of-living, have put charities, community groups and social enterprises under increasing pressure, exacerbating pre-existing challenges.  Only 5% of voluntary organisations report that they don’t face any issues.

Scotland’s voluntary sector is a key ally in delivering your priorities around the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, public services and the climate emergency.  Employing 5% of the Scottish workforce, and with a turnover of £9.2bn and net assets of £24bn, we are also significant players in Scotland’s economy.  But to do that we need the certainty and sustainability that many other sectors take for granted.  While I look forward to working with you in the coming years on parity of esteem for the voluntary sector alongside the private and public sectors, our significant role in public services and the economy, you can make a significant contribution straight away by ensuring that existing commitments are maintained, reiterated and implemented.

As ever, I’m very happy to discuss any aspect of this with you.

Best wishes

Anna Fowlie

Last modified on 15 May 2024