Kirsten Hogg analyses the first minister’s commitments towards the voluntary sector, based on his address to the Gathering 2023
Sometimes you just know what someone’s going to say, and when the first minister took to his feet at the Gathering last Tuesday, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect.
In many senses I was right. There was lots of praise for the sector (although I’m not sure I had anticipated how personal many of the FM’s connections to the sector would be), and mention of key bits of work like the volunteering action plan and the review of charity law.
What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was for the FM to make such a strong connection straight off the bat to the need for voluntary organisations to be financially sustainable if they are to be able to play their essential role, or for him to pre-empt my usual grumble that warms words are all very well, but are no use unless they translate into action.
Having written before about how the first minister seems to be listening, it was good to see this again last week, with Mr Yousaf taking on board the challenges the sector put to him, and taking away a number of actions for his cabinet colleagues and officials. Our job now is to see whether his government delivers on these (and we have an open invitation from the FM to let him know if they don’t) so here are the actions we will be monitoring:
Partnership working: in response to a question on involvement of the sector in winter planning the FM said that all health boards should be involving the sector as an equal partner – and that he’d like to know about it if they’re not. He also took an action to ensure that all cabinet secretaries are involving the sector within their portfolios. If your experiences tell you that actions on the ground aren’t living up to this rhetoric, please let us know.
Multi-year funding: the need for multi-year funding was acknowledged by the FM, with the suggestion that funding agreements of at least two years might feature in the forthcoming Scottish budget. We will monitor this through the budget, and continue to push for agreements of longer than two years where appropriate, as part of our wider push for Fair Funding.
Fair Work: having spoken about the Scottish Government’s commitment to Fair Work, when asked whether this would include all voluntary sector contracts and grants being set at a level that enables voluntary organisations to pay the Living Wage, the FM said the Scottish Government would work towards that, and that the sector should continue to push it on this.
Energy support: when we asked the first minister to pass on the Barnett consequentials of the £100 million that the Westminster government provided to help voluntary organisations with rising energy costs he didn’t immediately give a stock answer about it being for the government to decide how to spend the money coming from the UK, and instead took this away as an issue to look into.
Fair funding: the FM said that he would expect the cabinet secretary for finance to engage with us, particularly around the budget, and that he would ask officials to look into how monitoring and reporting could be made easier. Writing in TFN before the Gathering, the first minister also outlined his personal commitment to pursuing fairer funding, committing in particular to prioritise the aspects of fairer funding that can make the most difference, including prompt notification of funding, outcome-based flexible funding and proportionate administration around applications and reporting.
The first minister’s experience in the sector gives real credibility to his frustration that many of the issues we pushed him on have remained unresolved for 20-plus years. The power to make those changes is in his hands. If the Scottish Government works with us to make the next few years the ones where we finally crack them, he could have a transformative impact on our sector, and on Scottish society. We’ll be there to keep up the pressure.
Catch up with the first minister’s contribution to the Gathering at the Gathering Extra online on Wednesday, 29 November. Book now.
Main image: Lewis Houghton