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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.

Exclusive: Voluntary Action Scotland axed as Scottish Government pulls funding

This news post is about 6 years old

Intermediary body failed to show leadership or adequately support the TSI network claim insiders

Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) is to be axed after having its funding pulled by the Scottish Government.

The shock announcement was revealed yesterday (Tuesday, 19 December) at a hastily arranged meeting in Edinburgh to which acting chief executive Allan Johnstone was summoned along with 35 representatives from Scotland’s network of third sector interfaces (TSIs).

VAS, which has a remit to support Scotland’s 32 TSIs, is currently funded until next September after which its core funding of around £250,000 will go back into the network.

It comes after the Scottish Government published a damning report in January into VAS’s support for the network, calling on it to urgently get its house in order.

Allan Johnstone
Allan Johnstone

VAS's board responds

This statement was issued after the story was published

The Scottish Government has finalised its review of third sector interfaces and Voluntary Action Scotland and set out its approach to supporting local third sector infrastructure across Scotland.

With a view of affirming and developing the Third Sector Interface role as local strategic bodies for the sector at local level in the short term, and a commitment to an on-going dialogue to involving communities in tackling the larger issues facing Scotland in the longer term.

The board of trustees of Voluntary Action Scotland welcomes the positioning of local third sector infrastructure organisations as strategic third sector bodies and is cautiously optimistic about the broader approach of supporting the TSI network through a process of change.

Putting communities at the heart of local decision making, and strengthening the role of Third Sector Interfaces as organisations enabling this is something that the TSI network has argued for for some time.

We are however concerned that the decision to cease funding Voluntary Action Scotland after September 2018 means the possible removal of a much needed voice of the community sector at the national level during an important change process. If the future of local third sector infrastructure is focused on responding to what statutory bodies are required to do then this could lead to a weakening of the independence of the community sector.

We don’t want the needs and wants of communities to be lost to the might of the statutory sector.

The next part of this journey offers opportunities and challenges for all involved. We do believe that a network organisation - such as Voluntary Action Scotland - is needed to support this process. An overwhelming majority of the network of Third Sector Interface chief officers recently reaffirmed their desire for a network organisation and they were clear on the roles and purpose of that organisation.

Early in 2018 the board of Voluntary Action Scotland will explore options for maintaining these roles with a view to establishing a strong voice for the community sector in 2018 and beyond.

The report called for the body to have “greater clarity of purpose,” “strengthened leadership and organisational structure”, as well as “improved governance.”

However since then VAS has struggled to rebuild its reputation with many TSIs highly critical of its role and leadership.

Core grant funding amounting to £8.2 million was given to the TSI network last year. Some £44m has been granted since 1 April 2011.

An official at the Scottish Government confirmed to TFN that VAS will no longer receive funding.

Instead the government will continue to support individual TSIs with plans in place to recruit an individual whose job will be to "engage and support" the network.

A Scottish Goverment spokeswoman said: “We have confirmed we will not be funding VAS beyond September 2018. Our overall allocation to support TSIs and the network is not being reduced.

“We are retaining the resource currently supporting VAS for the TSI network, to create flexibility to respond to ambition and collaborative approaches, and to continue to support network support, knowledge and practice sharing.

“Our priority is supporting TSIs to deliver against an ambitious vision that puts them at the heart of local decision making and ensures they can support and respond to the needs of local communities.”

While it is feasible VAS could continue to exist if it finds funding, one source told TFN the fact the Scottish Government has “lost patience” with the body is a damning vote of no confidence from which it is unlikely recover.

“It can’t come back from this,” they said. “At the meeting it was openly understood that VAS had failed on a number of levels and that civil servants were extremely disappointed in its leadership. Who is going to fund an organisation that is effectively rudderless and dead in the water?"

The source continued: “It’s a tough job but it has never been the organisation the network wanted it to be. We wanted support and direction if and when required. Instead VAS became an empty vessel which, I believe, existed for the sake of itself.”

Allan Johnstone failed to respond to TFN's repeated requests for comment but the board issued a statement after the story broke (see below) saying it was concerned by the removal of a "much needed voice of the community sector at the national level during an important change process."

At the meeting, a Scottish Government official said she wanted individual TSIs to “lead in their locality”.

A source attending the meeting said there was never any question of VAS’s funding being reinstated.

“Criticism of VAS has been mounting,” they said. “Even if every TSI at yesterday's meeting backed VAS, the funding would have still been pulled. The Scottish Government isn’t at all happy. It was palpable.”

VAS has a membership composed of TSIs and is governed by a board of directors from the local interfaces.

Its last accounts show an income of nearly £430,000. It currently has a staff of six, one of whom receives a salary of around £60,000. Total salary costs amounted to £215,000 in the last financial year.

Removal of analysis box

Following receipt of the letter below from 15 chief executive of Third Sector Interfaces, TFN has removed the original analysis box that went alongside this story.

This analysis quoted senior TSI representatives who contacted TFN to tell us where they felt VAS had failed. It did not reflect the opinion of TFN and TFN did not seek these comments. TFN printed these comments in good faith on the understanding that they were fair comment on the situation at VAS provided by reliable sources.

However, given that 15 chief executives below clearly disagree with the opinions expressed by their colleagues, this analysis has been removed from the TFN website.

Submitted on behalf of 15 TSI chief executives

As CEOs of TSIs we welcomed the clarity offered by Scottish Government’s endorsement on the future of Third Sector Interfaces. We look forward to working together and with Scottish Government to affirm TSI’s strategic roles as local ‘change agents’. However we must express our disappointment at the tone of Robert Armour’s article 20thDecember and specifically with the comments made regarding VAS Chief Officer Allan Johnstone.

Whatever opinions your organisation has of VAS or VAS role historically within the TSI network, a distasteful personal attack on an individual is demeaning to all those who took part in its publication.

Your “analysis” is no more than an unpleasant, inaccurate and unfounded personal attack. As Chief Officers of our TSIs we neither recognise nor support the assertions made in your article. We very much regret that comments made are alleged to have come from individuals within our own network. In our view it is to their extreme discredit that they elected to take part in such a disgraceful public attack on an individual. Over the coming months our TSIs will continue to work with VAS and to support the excellent staff at VAS in every way we can.

Edinburgh TSI Partnership

Glasgow TSI Partnership

Stirling TSI

Aberdeen TSI

Inverclyde TSI

Moray TSI

Perth and Kinross TSI

Orkney TSI

Shetland TSI

South Lanarkshire TSI

Argyll & Bute TSI

Dundee TSI Partnership

North Ayrshire TSI

Clackmannanshire TSI

Scottish Borders TSI