Susan Smith examines some of the challenges faced by the third sector in 2015 and explains why it's important to celebrate charity success in 2016.
It’s hard to see the third sector high points of 2015 through a fog of fundraising scandals, cuts, governance gaffes, evidence of growing inequality and squabbles between England and Scotland.
There’s no doubt it’s been a tough year and many people will be coming to the end of it feeling battered and bruised, desperate for a well deserved Christmas break.
Once the festivities are over though, perhaps we will be able to look back on 2015 with pride - not least for the sector's ability to survive adversity - and look forward to celebrating charity success in 2016.
2015 has been another year where many voluntary organisations have struggled to keep afloat in the face of cuts to funding and increased demand of services. Squabbles between England and Scotland also saw Asthma UK’s office in Scotland close completely, while RNIB Scotland staff were transferred against their will to England-based sister charity Action for Blind People.
The UK government's proposed £12 billion worth of cuts to benefits has led to fears charities will end up carrying the can for a battered welfare state. And despite George Osborne’s recent u-turn on tax-credit cuts, poverty groups are predicting an increase in inequality, a rise in child poverty, more referrals to foodbanks and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Whether you believe we’re in the midst of a premeditated war on charities or not, the challenges of 2015 show us how important it is to publicly celebrate the work of the third sector
And despite the third sector’s willingness to step in to pick up the slack, 2015 has also been characterised by a series of negative tabloid media stories on chief executive pay, administrative costs and charity mismanagement on top of criticism of poor fundraising practise. This climaxed in the dramatic fall from grace of London children’s charity Kids Company, which took its flamboyant chief executive Camila Batmanghelidjh and the creative director of the BBC Alan Yentob with it.
We shouldn't overlook the huge pressure on international charities from the ongoing Syrian civil war and the dramatic increase in refugees flooding into Europe in 2015. The UK’s woeful response to the refugee crisis has created public outcry and seen civil society leaders speak out against the government. Charity sector work to support them has being carried out alongside the year-long battle to persuade world leaders to create serious climate action targets in Paris earlier this month, resulting in demonstrations in London and Edinburgh at the end of November.
On a brighter note, despite a tough few months in the spring, the Kiltwalk survived and, following its relaunch last month by entrepreneur Tom Hunter, looks set for a bright 2016.
The summer of fundraising scandals may have hit the sector with a massive slap but autumn saw organisations come together to get their houses in order and come up with a solution to protect the reputation of Scottish charities, few of whom were involved in the bad practise highlighted following the death of poppy-seller Olive Cooke. A review group has now been formed with a fresh report on a Scottish fundraising regulation system expected in February.
The summer also saw the annual Scottish Charity Awards honour a wide range of successful organisations across Scotland. It saw MND Scotland win Charity of the Year after capitalising on the momentum of 2014’s Ice-bucket Challenge to raise awareness of MND and double its income from £1.3 million to £2.6m.
It’s also been a great year for social enterprise. Social Value Lab carried out Scotland’s first ever social enterprise census over the summer and uncovered 5,200 social firms providing 112,000 jobs and contributing £1.15bn to the economy. TFN’s own #SocEntSummer campaign saw us take a closer look at a few of these and reviewed some of the best cafés with a conscience in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Whether you believe we’re in the midst of a premeditated war on charities or not, the challenges of 2015 show us how important it is to publicly celebrate the work of the third sector. We got a little taste of the power of the sector last month when a government leak suggested the Big Lottery Fund’s (BLF) budget was set to be cut. Immediately, organisations up and down the country leapt to its defence highlighting the great work that charities do because of this vital funding. As a result, the Prime Minister himself has vowed to maintain BLF’s budget.
We know though there is much more to be proud of in the third sector in Scotland, which is why the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has chosen celebrating charities as the theme of next year’s Gathering on 17 and 18 February at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow. TFN has been involved in a project looking at what the voluntary sector means to one small town, Bo’ness in Falkirk Council area, and has already discovered a mountain of passion, enthusiasm and creativity. Look out for more details of this in 2016.
So, as 2015 comes to an end, the third sector in Scotland may be licking a few wounds but there is plenty of strength left to advance the good fight in 2016. There is much to be optimistic about the coming year, so enjoy the Christmas break and bring on 2016!