Finance secretary Kate Forbes failed to mention the third or voluntary sector during her 30-minute budget speech
The Scottish Government has pledged it will continue to provide vital funding to the voluntary sector, despite failing to recognise the sector in yesterday’s (28 Jan) budget announcement.
A pot of £26.1 million has been allocated to the sector for the financial year 2021/22, a slight increase from £24.6m in 2020/21.
However finance secretary Kate Forbes MSP omitted mentioning the voluntary or third sector during her 30 minute budget speech to the Scottish Parliament, a point that was picked up on by Labour’s Pauline McNeill.
In the questions to the secretary, McNeill said: “The voluntary sector is embedded in our communities, providing a lifeline for families, delivering food on a shoestring budget, with so many funding streams. The cabinet secretary didn’t mention the voluntary or third sector.
“I can see from the figures that the increase is under £2m. SCVO recently stated that 20% of charities reported a critical threat to their financial viability in the next 12 months. Can the cabinet secretary outline how she sees the importance of the voluntary and third sector in this pandemic, recognise the work that they’ve done so far and clarify whether or not there is commitment to further funding these services given the important role they played in the last nine to 12 months.”
Forbes replied: “I can reassure Pauline McNeill that I do fully recognise the work of the voluntary and third sector when it comes to responding to the pandemic. And of course that’s why some of the first funds we invested in were to provide support to them. Significant funds have been invested from the communities package in spring and the winter package as well.
“Now of course she’ll have seen the publication of the Social Renewal Advisory Board (SRAB) recommendations that underline the importance of the third sector, and we will continue to provide investment to them. I would suggest that when it comes to the beginning of the next financial year, and the potential for additional Covid funding, that we will be sure to provide additional funding where it’s most needed the most, including in the third sector.”
The budget states the £26.1m will be used to provide investment in the local and national third sector infrastructure, support the capacity and growth of social enterprises, and ensure the third sector can help people and communities recover from the impact of the pandemic.
However the budget includes no details of whether or not continued resilience funding will be provided to help organisations through the coronavirus pandemic. The document highlights over £37m from the Wellbeing Fund and the £22m Third Sector Resilience Fund as funding that has supported the sector since the start of the pandemic.
The Scottish Government said further information on the budget will be released in due course.
Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said: "Over the course of the last year, we have seen unprecedented recognition for the vital contribution the voluntary sector makes to the very fabric of Scottish society. Not only in the response to the pandemic, but as we emerge into recovery. That makes it difficult to see why the sector was conspicuous in its absence from yesterday's budget statement.
"No doubt there will be money for the sector buried in there somewhere – for example much mental health support is delivered by voluntary organisation - but where is the funding needed as the immediate crisis continues, and to make sure crucial organisations are still there once it is over? There is no commitment to continuing or remodelling the Community and Third Sector Recovery Programme, only a nod to weighing up additional funding at the start of the next financial year.
"Throughout the crisis, the Scottish Government has worked closely with partners to bring much-needed funding to voluntary sector organisations. This has been a lifeline for those organisations and the people they support. It can’t simply fall off a cliff.
"We must look forward, and right now the voluntary sector is looking into the unknown. Our organisations and the people they serve need the certainty of what funding and support will be available over the next year. This is our priority, and in the days and weeks ahead, SCVO will be doing all we can to ensure vital support continues to be more than just warm words."
Tackling Scotland’s addiction crisis was one of the measures announced in the budget, with £145m allocated towards drug and alcohol support.
There was also £1.1bn announced to provide mental health support in Scotland.
Forbes said her goal was to "bring much-needed support and stability" and to lay the groundwork for a "fairer, stronger and greener" economy in future.
The budget includes £1.1bn of spending on jobs and employment support, extra cash for the health service to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, and £3.1bn for education.
Other spending plans include £3.6bn for social security, including £68m for the Scottish Child Payment.
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said the measures fell short to help those most in need. He said: "This budget rightly focused on responding to Covid-19. But we also needed it to drive us towards the more just Scotland that we all want to see emerge from the pandemic. By that measure it fell short, lacking the breadth and depth of transformative policies that can ensure our social and economic renewal.
“The Scottish Child Payment is the headline anti-poverty spending commitment in the budget, and it is hugely welcome. But it was set at £10 per week almost 18 months ago. Since then, the grip of poverty has only tightened on the lives of families across Scotland. We have to see the payment at least doubled to help reach our poverty targets.
“It was also disappointing that the additional investment made in the Scottish Welfare Fund budget in response to the pandemic was not maintained. This is a lifeline fund that – in the face of growing income crisis across our communities - needs further strengthened."
Environmental campaigners were also left underwhelmed with the plans. A total of £506.6m will be spent on the environment, climate change and land reform - an increase from £461.8m last year.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate campaigner Caroline Rance said: “If the Scottish Government is serious about creating a fairer, greener society as we exit the pandemic then they need to start making the choices and the investments that will deliver that transformative change. As it stands, this budget is yet another missed opportunity to drive a green jobs recovery by boosting demand in key areas like energy efficiency, public transport and skills training. Opposition parties must prioritise these areas in negotiations, to ensure the final budget delivers a much needed green recovery.
“The Scottish Government can find tens of millions for illusory technologies like carbon capture and fossil hydrogen which we all know won't create enough jobs or emissions cuts until the end of this decade, if then at all. Meanwhile, the government has failed to increase the pace and scale of action to create the warmer homes that would immediately create jobs across the country, slash fuel poverty, boost public health and bring down climate emissions. These are shovel-ready green jobs, not speculative fantasies pushed by fossil fuel companies.”
The SNP will now work with other parties to ensure the budget can be passed through the chamber in the coming weeks.