Last week the Scottish Government published a New Deal with Local Government and its New Deal for Business Group Report.
As anyone who has read my musing before will know, I’m not really a fan of warm words in a shiny document, but seeing both of these does beg the question whether we should also have a New Deal with/for the voluntary sector. I took a look at them both to find out more.
Both documents cover the sorts of themes we push government on: recognition of that sector’s expertise and role in society, involvement in policy development, financial arrangements and workforce issues. There are parts of both documents where you could substitute “voluntary sector” for “local government” or “businesses” and I’d be perfectly happy.
There are also things that we could learn from the different approaches taken to the two documents. While the New Deal with Local Government is pitched at a higher level, indicating that more detailed actions are to follow, the New Deal for Business Group has jumped straight to very concrete recommendations. The latter will be much easier to monitor, but the former seems to have greater scope – food for thought there about how to pitch things.
One area where the New Deal for Local Government is more detailed than the Business Group recommendations is around accountability and engagement; COSLA have driven a hard bargain around ongoing monitoring and joint working, and there is much that I’d take from their approach.
To be fair to those who wrote the business recommendations, the lack of detail in this area could be a reflection of the different processes used to create the documents. While discussions with local government have been going on for some time, my understanding of the processes with businesses is that this happened in a much tighter timescale, and with a strong diktat that recommendations were not to cost any money (both of which I would have balked at in terms of power dynamics, but the business community seems to have more than ably risen to the challenge, producing accessible and powerful recommendations in a short space of time). We will be catching up with colleagues in both sectors to see what we can learn from their experiences of the process.
So, should we have a New Deal for the Voluntary Sector? I’d say let’s wait and see. While there are lots of on paper commitments here that we might be happy to see replicated for our sector, we’ve got plenty of those already, scattered across various reports and documents. The proof of both New Deals will lie in their implementation. While there is lots we can learn from the documents themselves and the processes for their development, I’m confident that there is even more to be gleaned from watching how they play out in practice.
Kirsten Hogg is head of policy at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.