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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

"Bluntly - I'm angry" Holyrood hears sector fury over funding

 

Calls made for the relationship between voluntary groups and the Scottish Government to be reset

A Scottish charity leader spoke of her “anger” about how the Scottish Government has dealt with the sector over funding commitments.

In a hard hitting speech at the Scottish Parliament, Emma Hutton, chief executive of JustRight Scotland, a legal rights charity, said it is “simply unacceptable” that charities are having to pin hopes on “non-committal non-assurances” from Holyrood.

She spoke at a parliamentary reception promoting the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) #EssentialSector campaign.

This aims to highlight the vital role charities play in society – and also to call for the support they need to continue their work at a time of rising need and costs and diminishing resources.

Hutton told the audience she felt particularly let down following First Minister Humza Yousaf’s words to the sector at SCVO’s Gathering event last year.

She said: “I’m the chief executive of a charity with an annual budget of £1.6 million, responsible for the livelihoods and wellbeing of 23 staff, and for services that touch the lives of thousands of people across Scotland.

“We receive funding from several government departments and are routinely invited by government to provide our expertise, opinions and evidence on a wide range of human rights issues.

“Last November, I got up early to join colleagues from across the sector at a special ‘meet the FM’ session at the Gathering. We heard lots of warm words about how valuable and important our work is. We heard noises about trying to do more to deliver Fair Funding. We didn’t hear much in the way of solid commitments, but we hoped for the best.

“And yet, here we are in April 2024. Even the lacklustre commitments that were made last year have not been delivered. We were promised we would all know what our grants would be for the financial year, by the day before the financial year starts – hardly a world-leading commitment.

“But even so, I had no confirmation of over £300K of funding for the year ahead, until last week. Colleagues in other organisations are still waiting for their grant agreements. Others have told me about funding being pulled with no explanation, or the goal posts for their grants being changed days before the start of the new financial year.”

She continued: “We all just hold our breath and hope for the best and trust in the non-committal non-assurances we receive. But it is simply unacceptable that this is how we’re expected to operate. It creates huge pressures and anxieties for our workforce, adding to a retention and burnout crisis across the sector.

“And most importantly of all, it puts the people we work with at risk – if we can’t plan ahead with some degree of certainty, how can we comfortably taken on new casework? What happens to people when services have to shut up shop at a moment’s notice?”

She said that when grant renewals did come through they were capped at the same level as the previous year. Which had been capped at that level the year before, resulting in a big real-terms cut, with no consideration given to rocketing inflation levels.  

Hutton called for the relationship between the sector and the Scottish Government to be reset.

Referring to past ‘compacts’ between voluntary groups and the government, she said: “It wasn’t like this in the past. Every time I run into fellow sector leaders, we all say the same thing: it’s never been this bad. We don’t feel valued, we don’t feel respected. We all know there are tough financial decisions to be made. But where is the grown-up dialogue with us as a sector about how to take a strategic approach to that challenge?”

Hutton added: “So what is my main feeling about the Scottish Government’s attitude towards us and the rest of our essential sector? Bluntly – I’m angry.”

The audience, which included grassroots sector workers, leaders and MSPs, was told about the increasing need in his community, and rising demand for services by Alex Abiodun (pictured above, with Emma Hutton and Anna Fowlie and Richard Jennings of SCVO) of Afro Scot Relief.

This experience was underlined by Kirsten Hogg, SCVO’s head of policy. She took the audience through some of the findings of SCVO’s Third Sector Tracker, which has been monitoring the fortunes of the country’s voluntary sector.

Analysis of the latest wave of the tracker, published earlier this year, shows an overwhelming number of groups facing challenges. 

The percentage of organisations reporting financial problems has steadily increased – driven mainly by rising costs and inflation - with 95% facing challenges and 76% seeing one of those as financial, both up from December 2022 and earlier last year. 

Funding issues are a longstanding challenge, but Covid and rising costs such as energy have exacerbated those structural issue, bringing the situation to a crisis point.

She said: “What does all that mean for the future of the voluntary sector? I don’t have a crystal ball, but the tracker tells me that more than a quarter of respondents felt less positive about the next 12 months for their organisation, and more than half felt less positive about the next 12 months for the voluntary sector. And how much less positive can things get than the fairly bleak picture I’ve painted tonight?

“We know that to really see change we need buy in from right across the Scottish Government – that’s frustrating for them, and it’s frustrating and damaging to the voluntary organisations that are impacted.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, cabinet secretary for social justice, responded: “As I said at the Scottish Parliament, the financial volatility we continue to face has been driven by the most challenging budget settlement since devolution alongside the consequences of a delayed UK Government budget. This has had significant implications for our ability to notify stakeholders of their funding for FY 24/25.

“However, despite these challenging circumstances, 87% of third sector funding in the Social Justice portfolio had already been notified before the end of March with many more grants confirmed shortly afterwards.

“We recognise the impact that uncertainty can have on organisations, such as JustRight Scotland that rely on government funding to deliver critical services. We agree that there is a need for greater certainty around future funding and support and we remain committed to achieving Fairer Funding arrangements.

“Work is underway to improve the clarity and consistency of our internal grant-making practices, including developing our understanding of the nature and extent of third sector funding across the Scottish Government. This will inform our ongoing engagement with the sector to collectively identify a strategic approach to tackling the challenges facing us.”

 

Comments

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Stuart Callison
about 1 month ago

Well done, Emma Hutton - it's long past time that charity leaders were less meek about accepting empty praise from politicians as the best we can expect.

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Alan Webb
about 1 month ago

Study after report, the value and impact of the third sector to our communities, to wellbeing, local infrastructure and economy is set out clearly and applauded - yet still, here we are. I believe we must move from 'funding' to an 'investment' model to really get the best from our Essential Sector. We must see the sector valued, respected, understood and as a social & economic investment.

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M. K. Hendrix
about 1 month ago

Emma Hutton's core question of "where is the grown-up dialogue?" is an uncovering of conservative politics. I've quoted the storied indigenous legend in the past which says that there are two dogs in all of us and the one that we feed is the one that flourishes. Conservative politics feeds the meanest of dogs. Spending for prisons over schools, for example. Or, spending for military weaponry over peace-seeking strategies, and so on ad nauseum.