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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.

Exploring the economic potential of the voluntary sector

This news post is about 1 year old

Important new series of articles launched

The official value of the voluntary sector is far smaller than its actual contribution to the UK economy, which could be ten times higher than is estimated. 

Yet the voluntary sector’s economic power is as essential to recovery from Covid as the public and private sectors. 

These are two arguments being put forward by sector leaders in a new series of articles exploring the role of the voluntary sector in the economy. 

Dame Julia Unwin, who sat on the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery in 2020, says no one sector can achieve recovery, instead the voluntary sector, public and private sectors must work together. 

She says in her contribution to a new Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) economy article series: “Any attempt at economic recovery is doomed to fail if it doesn’t work closely with that rich web of organisations, large and small, which enable communities to connect, to build confidence, capacity and care.”  

The article explores five ways policy makers can work with the sector to develop its economic potential. 

Anoushka Kenley, director of policy and research at UK think tank Pro Bono Economics (PBE), highlights that the official value generated by UK charities is just 1% of GDP. However PBE and its founder, former chief economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane, believes the true figure to be as high as £200 billion or 10% of GDP. 

But this is still not the full picture. “We should not limit our understanding of the social sector’s value simply to what it delivers itself,” says Anoushka. “We should consider what it enables other sectors to achieve too.  

“This is even harder to pin down with numbers, but take a moment to reflect on whether government or businesses could do their jobs properly without a functioning civil society. Without norms of trust, cooperation and reciprocity to grease the wheels of connection between and within social groups. Without a healthy, happy workforce, community representation or civil society’s rich network of relationships. This is the social capital which helps markets and democracies to function effectively.” 

Dame Julia and Anoushka Kenley have written the first two articles in the new series SCVO has commissioned to explore the role of the sector in the economy. It will include contributions from leaders in the voluntary sector, public and private sectors. 

Kirsten Hogg, SCVO’s head of policy, research and campaigns, explains: “Scottish voluntary organisations are operating in every community in the country and contribute to the economy by employing people and buying and selling goods and services.  

“At SCVO we want to understand that contribution in more depth, so we can represent the sector better to government and others. We’ve launched this activity to open up discussion and expand our understanding. It’s great that the articles are already highlighting that there’s so much more to the voluntary sector’s economic impact than pure monetary turnover.” 

SCVO will be publishing new articles every few weeks well into next year. The first event in the series will explore the implications of the Scottish Budget for the voluntary sector. Follow #SCVOeconomy on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with new articles, events and get involved in the discussion about what this means for your organisation.  



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