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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.

No more excuses over multi-year funding 

This opinion piece is about 2 years old

What's changed since Nicola Sturgeon referred to multi-year funding as the 'common sense' approach and committed to achieving this for the sector in a TFN interview in 2015? Given the approaching end to European funding and a pandemic that’s exhibited both the strength and instability of Scotland's voluntary sector, I'd say quite a lot.   

What hasn't changed is that most voluntary organisations that receive funding from the Scottish and local governments are, if they're lucky, only now finding out if they’ll get funding for the next financial year. Progress, if we can call it that, has been painfully slow when it comes to multi-year funding, despite politicians reaffirming commitments last year.  

Some more fortunate organisations have seen their funding shift to multi-year, only to slide back to a single year. Others have secured two-to-three-year funding that has remained static over this period. That's despite inflation averaging 2.7% a year between 2018-2021 and increasing demands from governments. The majority, who have seen no such things, will envy these difficulties. 

The Scottish Government refers to its equalities and human rights funding streams as proof that it is listening to the sector. Admittedly, there has been some progress to offer to fund for up to three years. Yet, the Scottish Government uses improvements in the minority of areas to aggrandise practice across the board. 

MSPs constantly hear from SCVO that voluntary organisations need multi-year funding based on favourable terms, including inflationary uplifts, core running costs, and the trust and flexibility to spend budgets in the best way. They do get it, but almost all organisations my team interviewed last year told us that static short-term funding remains a significant obstacle. 

The transfer of risk to our sector is unparalleled. The Scottish Government reasons that the annual settlement from Westminster means it can offer only single-year allocations to the local government and the voluntary sector. While governments at least know they'll receive some funding, voluntary organisations have no idea whether they'll receive any. 

I've always been an optimist. Multi-year funding in some funding streams shows that it is possible. Those with the power could find the ambition to step outside of the box, learn from colleagues, and work with the sector to find pragmatic solutions to offer greater financial and planning certainty. 

Scotland's spending review is now the best chance we have to secure the mainstreaming of multi-year funding. It follows the UK spending review, enabling the Scottish Government to publish multi-year spending plans. It's time for the Scottish Government to deliver on multi-year funding and ditch the phrase, 'it's Westminster's fault.' 

This spending review needs to treat voluntary organisations as local government's equals through the Scottish Government's own multi-year funding allocations. Local government must also pass on the longer-term settlements it receives through similar arrangements with the sector. They, too, must ditch the line, 'it's the Scottish Government's fault.'  

Governments' views of multi-year funding for the sector will likely look different to the sector’s thoughts on what's needed. Something slightly better is not the level of ambition we should target. Longer-term funding must recognise that the cost of goods and delivering services will rise over this period and build in appropriate uplifts.  

Voluntary organisations need to see meaningful contributions to core operating costs. Civil servants must speak with those they are funding to understand what they need to support back-of-office operations. Also, to ask what support they need to get involved in strategy and policy development beyond delivering the services that governments fund. 

Organisations need to adapt to changing needs, and governments also need to extract the added value the voluntary sector brings. My plea is for civil servants to trust voluntary organisations' skills, knowledge, and expertise. Greater flexibility in how organisations can spend their funding over an extended period is essential.  

You may ask what your organisation can do to ensure we have the best chance of securing a system change in funding? I implore you to respond to the Scottish Government's consultation on the spending review, closing on 27 March. Submitting your response is worth the time, and we'll assist you in having your voice heard for those short on capacity. 

Our latest blog outlines what SCVO is doing to influence the spending review. You can download a response template to support SCVO's position and add details about the impact of the annual funding cycle on your organisation. Use the template to outline why your part of government must invest in you for the longer term. If you cannot put your head above the parapet, you can share your thoughts anonymously in our short form. 

Voluntary organisations need to see the Scottish Government, local government and other public bodies mainstreaming multi-year funding on fair and sustainable terms. SCVO will continue to make this case repeatedly until the rhetoric over recent years becomes a reality. There can be no more excuses over multi-year funding.  

Paul Bradley is Policy and Public Affairs Manager at SCVO