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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.

"Double whammy": Scottish budget's impact on third sector


Anna Fowlie expresses the sector's dismay at yet another disappointing budget - and wonders when, if ever, we'll see concrete action

I admit I’m cynical, having worked in or around civic Scotland for 37 years next month, but I’m generally an optimist that likes to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

So I took at face value the words from the first minister at the Gathering only six weeks ago when he looked 500 of us in the eye and specifically said the upcoming budget would demonstrate his government’s commitment to fairer, more stable funding for the voluntary sector.

He mentioned “multi-year, or at least two-year” commitments. A small thing perhaps, but a step in the right direction. 

On the back of that I think it was reasonable to be confident that there would be something in the Scottish Budget announcement. I wasn’t naïve enough to expect any new money - I know how shot government finances are just now. But there are plenty elements of our Fair Funding asks that are simply good customer care, and would actually save money and time. But the fact that the single reference to “fairer funding” was right next to the word “efficiency” feels ominous.  

Efficiency should be a good thing. If civil servants spent less time on disproportionate, repetitive bureaucracy and took a strategic investment approach focused on delivering outcomes rather than on micro-managing activity, then both government and the organisations who apply for funding could free up time to do what they do best. That would be efficient.  

However, we all know that in the current environment, efficiency is just code for cuts.  

Of course, far more voluntary organisations are funded by local councils than by government. So the fall-out from the local government settlement will be significant. Last year was bad, with one council even cutting 100% of their funding to the sector. But this year will be worse.  

One of the questions asked of the FM at the Gathering related to the surprise announcement of a council tax freeze, which clearly doesn’t benefit the people in our communities who are struggling the most. In fact, it’s detrimental because it’s those people’s services that will be cut.  

For our sector, there’s a double whammy impact of squeezing local government. Firstly, councils will inevitably protect their own staff’s jobs so won’t have enough money to fund voluntary organisations who provide more cost-effective, and often more person-centred, services to people and families who depend on those charities or community groups to keep their heads above water.  

Secondly, as council services are stripped back the gap falls to voluntary organisations to fill. It’s as if the government and councils think those vital services run on fresh air, or that the workers they employ don’t matter. While the public are hugely generous in Scotland in giving time and money to charities, the cost of living crisis is impacting on those too; both volunteering and donations are down.  

You can’t depend on sponsored walks and bake sales to save vulnerable people. 

I believe this is a budget that misses many chances to save money by spending on things that actually make a difference. Things we’ve known about for years. If we genuinely believe in ending child poverty, addressing climate change and tackling inequalities, we need to stop throwing good money after bad and invest in things that bring change, cost less, and save money for the system as a whole. Things like youth work, sport, community engagement, mental wellbeing and the environment.  

Sadly, this focus on short-term headlines isn’t limited to the government, as we can see from the reactions in the news and social media. One thing I’m sure of is that 2024 will bring a fresh crop of strategies and consultations that re-describe the problems and offer no concrete action. 

If one more politician, from any party, mentions the Christie report as something we should still, over a decade on, be aspiring to, I hope Campbell comes back and haunts them. 

Anna Fowlie is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations



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Lok Yue
4 months ago

As usual, its not Scotgov's fault: its all due to evil Westminster. Ive said it before and will say it again: until or unless we start taking responsibility for our own shortcomings, things will never improve.