Nicola Sturgeon opens SCVO's Gathering event
Scotland’s progress must be measured through a growth in the wellbeing and happiness of its people – and the country’s third sector is vital to delivering that.
This was message First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered to charities assembled at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) Gathering event, which runs today and tomorrow at Glasgow’s SEC.
Sturgeon, who delivered the opening address, said a main plank of the Scottish Government’s programme is making sure wellbeing is as fundamental a measure of the country’s performance as its Gross Domestic Product.
She said Scotland needs to transition to being a “wellbeing economy” – and the country’s charities will be vital to that.
Sturgeon told The Gathering: “A key theme of the Scottish Government recently, and something which in years to come will become stronger is to move away solely from measuring economic growth as a sign of how successful a country we are to ensuring instead that we look at broader measures of wellbeing.
“This means assessing whether our policies are not just making the country wealthier, but if they are make people and communities healthier and happier along the way. The third sector is very important to our economy and always will be but the work you do is quite clearly essential to that wider effort as well.
“The organisations you represent are essential to the health and happiness of and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands across the country and we all owe you a huge debt of gratitude.”
Linked to this, she said, will be the voluntary sector’s role in preparing for the forthcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Sturgeon said: “An area where the third sector’s role will become more and more important in the months and years to come is the environment,.
“Glasgow will host the most important set of meeting to take place anywhere in the world this year.
“Giving a voice to the third sector will be a vital part in making sure the summit is a success. There’s an obvious role for environmental and international charities and for those mitigating the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Indeed, the third sector has been campaigning on this for decades and the stories you tell and the arguments you make are all powerful in challenging governments and holding us to account.”
She added: “However, all third sector organisations have a part to play – we want to help the transition into a greener world, but we also want to do it in such a way that it benefits everyone across our country. Many of these ideas will come from the third sector.
“The third sector has a vital role to play in this, it contributes directly to policy development – but importantly it also challenges government. Your job is to make life difficult for governments and policy makers.”
Your job is to make life difficult for governments and policy makers
Reflecting the breadth of the sector, the panel joining the first minister at The Gathering launch included David McColgan of British Heart Foundation, who has been involved - with SCVO’s Policy Forum - in drawing up a policy manifesto for the voluntary sector which will be launched at The Gathering and Deborah Long, chief officer of Scottish Environment Link, who talked about the challenges facing the country as we face up to the climate crisis.
Joining them were Neil Henery, director of Camphill Scotland, who spoke of the problems caused by Brexit and SallyAnn Kelly of children’s charity Aberlour, who spoke powerfully of the need for the Scottish Government to provide more certainty on funding.
She urged the first minister to “think about the true power of the third sector which could be unleashed if there was a true equal relationship with the Scottish Government and local government.
“There are many examples which could be given about that unequal relationship – and there are many of us here today who will be worries about staff coming to the end of contracts, who have no certainty about whether those contracts will continue to be funded, who will be unsure of funding beyond a year.
“We have a level of churn in our sector which means staff are left anxious about mortgages and paying bills.”
Sturgeon responded: “We try to protect third sector funding as much as we can but we’ve faced a decade of austerity. The Scottish Government budget is £1.5 billion lower than it was because of the austerity that’s not been our doing. It’s been impossible to protect everything but as we move forward we will continue to protect those things that mean most to us to the best of our ability.
“I want to have a position where we can give longer term stability and security – that’s what we want to work towards.”