There is still a way to go in ensuring the third sector is perceived as an equal player in Scottish society but the first minister is optimistic
Scotland’s first minister underlined her personal commitment to developing the role of the third sector in Scottish society in her annual address at the Gathering.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke to a packed room at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' (SCVO) annual Gathering conference for 15 minutes before responding to questions, which centred on the barriers groups face in supporting some of Scotland’s most vulnerable.
On the morning SCVO released new research highlighting the many challenges third sector organisations are facing, delegates quizzed the first minister on solutions to short-term funding and contracts, and the difficulties in getting local authorities and health boards to value the role of the third sector in public service reform.
Jane-Claire Judson from Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland spoke about a young mum who had been unable to hold her one-year old baby boy after a stroke. The mum reported later that while the NHS had saved her life, the charity had given her her son back. Yet, despite this, there is still a lack of recognition of the value of the third sector, said Judson.
It was clear the first minister recognised the challenges organisations face in achieving equality of status in the world of public service reform. However, she admitted that culture change within health and social care public bodies, in particular, would take time.
“We need to understand the value the third sector provides,” she said. “The third sector delivers the things that help people to go on living their lives. It’s not enough for the sector to be invited to the table as a tick-box exercise, it needs to be embedded in the development of public service reform. It takes time to change culture and I readily accept we still have a way to go to ensure that becomes a reality.”
Speaking optimistically, however, the first minsiter also expressed her confidence that more people across Scottish society appreciate the role of the third sector, while she also challenged the sector and funders to continue to find ways to prove its value.
“I’m a convert to the third sector,” she said. “Most of the civil servants I speak to get it, and in fact most of the people I speak to in the public sector get it too.
“However, we live in a culture where every penny is scrutinised. I’m not sure we should get to a point where we take for read the contribution of any part of society. I can’t take away the third sector’s need to demonstrate what it does in order to access funding, but we can do it better – there is a better way to encapsulate what organisations do.”
The first minister was joined on the panel by SCVO’s chief executive Anna Fowlie, the chief executive of cerebral palsy charity Bobath Scotland Stephanie Fraser, and Chris Martin, the new chief executive of Social Enterprise Scotland, and former chief executive of Callander Youth Project.
Stephanie argued there needs to be a move away from the view that public services are about the statutory sector and towards a much more inclusive public service world.
Chris highlighted the importance of co-production with the public and private sectors. He said Callander Youth Project had successfully worked across sectors to improve opportunities for young people living in the rural community.
Anna expressed her belief and support for the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, which aims to move society away from targets and short-term goals.
“The statutory sector is still being driven by targets,” she said. “If we could get the statutory sector really behind the National Performance Framework that would help to get us to a much more integrated system of public services. We won’t get there with short-term targets, inputs and outputs.”
The first minister opened her speech by thanking the third sector for the work it does making a huge difference to the lives of people across the length and breadth of Scotland. She highlighted the important role the sector is playing in creating Scotland’s news social security system as well as recognising some of the challenges Brexit will bring to the third sector.