Angela Constance, the new cabinet secretary for communities, social security and equalities, answers TFN's questions
1. What are your initial impressions of the third sector in Scotland?
It’s clear the third sector plays a crucial role in tackling inequalities, supporting people and communities, and delivering public services. As the new cabinet secretary with responsibility for the third sector I am looking forward to working with these organisations to create a fairer and more inclusive Scotland.
In my previous roles working with children and young people I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of contact with third sector organisations and have seen first hand the positive impact of their work.
In the future I’d like to see the sector work to its full potential, to help us deliver public service reform and prevention and community empowerment, to tackle poverty and inequality, and develop innovative ways of addressing the challenges facing communities.
2. TFN recently published the results of a survey into the state of charity finance which revealed demand for services is up while income is falling, in particular public sector funding. What can you do to support the sector through this difficult period?
We have maintained our core third sector budget at £24.5 million, and across the Scottish Government there are significant sums being invested in third sector organisations.
But I do know many organisations are feeling the pinch financially. I’d like to work closely with community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, co-operatives and individual volunteers over the year ahead to ensure the support we provide continues to be effective.
As part of that I’d like to take steps to consolidate voluntary sector funding into single grant funds to provide greater clarity to applicants. I’d also like to give organisations more financial certainty by introducing three year rolling funding where possible and we will continue to help third sector organisations compete for public sector contracts and offer business support.
The third sector plays a crucial role in tackling inequalities, supporting people and communities
3. One major problem for community-based third sector organisations is short-term funding arrangements from local authorities. As the cabinet secretary with responsibility for local government, will you use your influence to pressure councils to deliver three to five year funding to the third sector?
As I’ve already indicated this isn’t just about local authorities. We intend to lead by example and introduce three year rolling funding where possible. We will introduce a system across government that indicates when funding is due to end, to provide greater clarity for the sector and allow better planning for the longer term. We would encourage all funders, including local authorities, to try to move away from short-term funding arrangements where possible.
4. What will you be doing to help promote the social economy in Scotland?
It’s important that we think long-term on this. We will be working with the social enterprise sector to develop a ten year strategy for social enterprise which will build on and develop our current support.
We will also be developing an international social enterprise strategy. So look out for both of these later in the year as we want to make sure we continue to maintain our world leading approach.
I also want to make sure third sector organisations can access social investment loan finance so they can grow, expand and create employment opportunities.
5. Your brief includes social security. Currently the third sector supports people who are struggling with welfare cuts through activities such as foodbanks and other front-line emergency responses. Do you see a role for these organisations in Scotland’s social security system?
I’m hugely excited by the challenge of taking on and delivering new social security powers. I do think there is an opportunity to do things differently. The sector has played an important role to date in helping to shape the vision and principles we will use to support our policies and delivery, so I absolutely see that relationship continuing.
We have said that we will have an agency as our delivery system of choice and work will continue with the sector and a range of others to make sure we get this right.
I fully recognise the impact that the UK government’s welfare reforms have had on the sector and indeed more widely the damage that has been done to people in my own community.
We are providing £2.5m this year to help the sector cope with the continuing demand for advice and support services as a direct result of UK government welfare reforms. Our new £1m Fair Food Fund will help the third sector provide emergency food aid and allow organisations to develop longer-term, dignified and sustainable strategies to address food poverty.
6. The Scottish communities most in need of regeneration and development are often the least empowered to take control of their own assets. How do you propose to ensure Scotland’s poorest communities are able to take advantage of new community empowerment laws?
By creating new rights for community bodies and new duties on public authorities, the Community Empowerment Act strengthens the voices of communities in the decisions that matter to them. The act makes it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings and as it progressed through parliament it was amended to ensure that reducing inequalities was central to the decision making process.
Our commitment to giving communities more powers has been backed up by a £20m investment in our Empowering Communities Funds.
This investment will also help us work with community groups and support their drive to deliver long-term solutions that tackle poverty.
We will be working with the social enterprise sector to develop a ten year strategy to build on and develop our current support
7. How will you ensure that the Scottish Government keeps its pledge to dramatically increase the number of new affordable homes being built in Scotland?
The Scottish Government is determined to increase and accelerate housing supply across all tenures and support the industry and local authorities to deliver their housing priorities with quality homes in mixed communities that fit local needs.
We have an excellent track record. Over the lifetime of the last parliament we met and exceeded our target to deliver at least 30,000 affordable homes and invested over £1.7 billion.
Over the current parliamentary term our target is to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes, 70% of which will be for social rent. This five year target has been backed by an investment of over £3bn.
In January we announced housing subsidies, which help councils and Registered Social Landlords acquire land or buildings and to build, convert or improve housing for social and affordable rent, would be increased for three years.
We are also committed to a new offer of five-year resource planning assumptions for all councils following the 2016 spending review.
8. One in five children in Scotland are still growing up in poverty despite various Scottish Government strategies and targets introduced since the Scottish Parliament came into existence. What do you think needs to happen to genuinely tackle poverty in Scotland?
The Scottish Government remains fully committed to tackling child poverty. We recognise there is still a long way to go and it will remain a priority.
Last year’s annual report on our Child Poverty Strategy showed progress but when considered in the context of the overall number of children living in poverty – 210,000 after housing costs were taken into account – the levels continue to be completely unacceptable.
That’s why the Scottish Government fundamentally disagreed with the changes made by the UK Government to the Child Poverty Act 2010. We will now work to develop a Scottish approach to tackling poverty, in collaboration with our Ministerial Advisory Group on Child Poverty, our Independent Poverty Advisor and others – reflecting the importance we continue to place on this challenge.
9. What’s your favourite social enterprise?
I am hugely impressed by the work which social enterprises do across Scotland and by the drive and ambition which talented and committed social entrepreneurs bring to so many areas of Scottish life.
Just in my own constituency I’ve seen the benefits of social enterprises. For example the West Lothian Credit Union is providing money advice and offering safer opportunities to borrow.
I look forward to finding out the valuable work and big differences social enterprises are making to their communities across Scotland.
10. In your opinion, what is the most important thing for you as a cabinet secretary to achieve in order to create a fairer Scotland?
Creating a fairer Scotland cannot just be achieved by one thing alone - for me there are many important areas. It’s crucial for more affordable housing to be delivered across Scotland, I want us to make progress on tackling child poverty, and we need to show that different choices and priorities are possible with our new social security agency.