SCVO has hit out at the Scottish Government over its disorganised approach to distributing over £1bn of European funding to tackle social exclusion
Scottish Government plans for spending £1.4bn of European funding over the next six years are “incoherent” and “contradictory” and risk overlooking the third sector.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has criticised the government for dragging its heels over plans on how to spend the cash, designed to boost projects working in poverty, social inclusion, skills and employment.
The European Structural Funds (ESF) and European Rural Development Funding (ERDF) programmes were due to cover 2014 to 2020 but are unlikely to open before the end of the year.
And the Scottish Government’s draft plans on how distribute the funding “do not add up” according to SCVO’s written response to the proposals.
In a highly critical document submitted to the Scottish Government, SCVO stated: “The operational programme documents are incoherent in parts. They are contradictory in several places and use jargon and language that is inaccessible to most people.
“The ESF financial tables do not add up and used different sets of figures from previously published papers with no explanation or justification for change.”
There seems to be a disconnect between the official proposals and what government ministers say will happen - Martin Sime
Earlier this month, SCVO’s counterpart in England, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, announced it had brokered a deal with the UK Office for Civil Society and the Big Lottery Fund England to ensure match funding on European programmes.
“SCVO has proposed a similar partnership to the Scottish Government but have been told it wouldn’t be possible,” said Martin Sime, SCVO’s chief executive.
“We are very disappointed with the lack of ambition so far. European money is important for many third sector organisations working to overcome poverty and inequality and boost employment in Scotland, but it seems that we are to be relegated to being downstream contractors. European funding is losing its identity within mainstream government budgets."
Earlier this year, organisations that provide employment services including Enable, Intowork, Action for Children, the Princes Trust and the Scottish Association for Mental Health raised concerns about the future of funding for services for thousands of Scots who have difficulty finding work.
A National Employability Fund of at least £10m a year would ensure that these organisations can continue their work and not waste time and money seeking funding from 32 different local authorities.
In a recent letter to SCVO, finance secretary John Swinney committed to the establishment of such a fund.
He added: “I believe that national and locally-based third sector organisations have a key role to play alongside the public authorities in addressing social inclusion, poverty and employability.
“I expect to see the third sector play a significant role in delivering the new projects and initiatives.”
Sime, however, said that Swinney’s warm words are not reflected in the draft plans.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the official proposals and what government ministers say will happen,” he said. “Time is running out on this: staff working for third sector organisations are being put at risk of redundancy and service users are not getting the help they need.
“We want to see a coherent plan for how this money will be used that recognise the vital role that the third sector plays.”
As TFN went to print, the Scottish Government was expected to announce a transition fund to support organisations that depend on European funding, while the overall proposals are finalised.