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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.

Anti-poverty summit: focus on action needed


Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the First Minister’s anti-poverty summit on behalf of SCVO. 

My 10 year old was very keen to know whether this meant I’d get to meet the First Minister, so I explained that there were lots of people going and I’d probably sit at the back while he spoke from the front.  The optimistic 10 year old reply “maybe he’ll be really interested in charities and he’ll want to ask you a question” was met with a cynical 44 year old “maybe”.  But as it turned out, it was indeed an event with a real interest the sector, and the First Minister wanted to ask us all lots of questions.   

The role of the voluntary sector was front and centre throughout the day, both in helping to prevent poverty and in supporting those who experience it.  Many of those who had been invited to contribute their views were drawn from the sector, and I was very privileged, if somewhat taken aback, to find that SCVO had been allocated a seat in the same discussion group as the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary. 

In that forum I was able to raise the need for fair, sustainable funding for the sector, to ensure that voluntary organisations are able to continue to play these vital roles in relation to poverty and elsewhere, and both the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary seemed open to further discussion on how to reset this funding relationship.  The First Minister’s admiration for the sector was clear when he mentioned his own time working in a voluntary organisation, and he reflected that he could think of “no-one better” to accompany people on their journeys than those he had encountered from the sector. 

The First Minister was keen to emphasise from the start of the day that he was there to exchange ideas and to listen, and within the discussion group that’s what he did.  While being realistic about the challenges we all face in tackling poverty, neither he nor his officials focussed on barriers to action, listening carefully to all suggestions and probing for more information; it may be the first time I’ve ever mentioned multi-year funding without the barrier of single year UK funding to Scotland being invoked.   

While my experiences at the summit were good, my positivity comes with caveats.  My expertise in relation to poverty is firmly restricted to the voluntary sector’s role; I don’t know to what extent the issues raised yesterday were new or brave, or to what extent they will move us forward. I do know, however, that just talking in a room won’t change anything.  Listening is a great starting point, and warm words of endorsement are welcome, but actions speak much louder than words.  We’ve heard all the right things about multi-year funding from government for many years, but it is crucial that we see action now.  In the margins of yesterday’s summit I spoke to a number of organisations about their own precarious funding situations, confirming that the ways in which decisions are being made and communicated are causing significant problems for organisations. 

If the new First Minister really wants a new way of working, I’d suggest a focus on action.  While some of the suggestions yesterday were new, some have been made many times before, often in the form of policy recommendations in a nice shiny document.  A very fruitful new way of working would be for the First Minister to ensure that his government has a focus on driving and monitoring implementation of the recommendations it makes, not on the next shiny document. 

We all have a role to play in this.  In a country infamous for our implementation gap, part of the voluntary sector’s role must be to hold politicians to account for the progress they make, or don’t make, against their rhetoric or commitments.  SCVO will continue to seek accountability for progress on the fair funding that will enable other parts of the sector to play their key roles in tackling poverty and ensuring that Scottish Government does the same. 

Kirsten Hogg is SCVO’s head of policy, research and campaigns.



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