Liz Smith MSP says this year's Scottish budget must "implement solutions which will safeguard and advance the work of voluntary organisations"
Recently, it was my privilege, to speak at the SCDI St Andrew’s Day event where it was a pleasure to engage with several key stakeholders from the voluntary sector.
In particular, I welcomed the opportunity to hear what the voluntary sector is saying about the upcoming Scottish budget (Thursday, 15 December)..
One thing is very clear; the voluntary sector wants to see quicker action rather than just hear warm words when it comes to multi-year funding for budget commitments. I agree with that, and also with the demands that we should move to a three year cycle within budgets. As all political parties at Holyrood are committed to multi-year funding we should surely be able to fast-track its implementation.
I sit on the Finance Committee and it is an issue that has been raised with us several times in evidence particularly by local authorities and charities and it has also been raised in several Audit Scotland reports.
It is time to implement solutions which will safeguard and advance the work of our voluntary organisations. Multi-year funding is essential to allow proper and robust planning and to ease the anxiety about the longevity of financial provision. Multi-year funding is not just a matter of providing clarity but also about enabling the sustainability of organisations within the voluntary sector and facilitating better transparency as it relates to the disbursement of government funding. I will certainly be continuing to press members of the Finance Committee to formally recommend the necessary legislative changes.
Scottish Conservative colleagues have also been working hard in the parliament to hold the Scottish Government to account over this issue. For example, in October, Jeremy Balfour MSP urged the Scottish Government to commit to meeting with the SCVO to discuss its proposals to implement multi-year funding structures.
Financial transparency matters and my focus will always be to ensure Scottish Government decisions around finance are both open and accessible to the public. This is a pertinent and relevant issue especially with the recent Auditor General of Scotland calling for greater financial transparency from the Scottish Government.
Empty rhetoric is not good enough. What’s needed is a proper commitment from the Scottish Government to facilitate funding that is fair, and to work more proactively with voluntary organisations towards solutions.
After the significant economic turmoil of recent months – some of it self-inflicted by the actions of the previous UK government – I was pleased to see Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, deliver an autumn statement that was far more focussed on the needs of our more vulnerable communities, for example, the uplift in pensions and benefits in line with inflation and the targeting of additional energy bills payments on people on low incomes, were very welcome.
As 15 December approaches, I hope the eyes of the Scottish Government will be firmly focussed on tax and spend policies which make Scotland an attractive place in which to live, work and invest and that the voluntary sector is part of that commitment, not just for this budget but for those in the years ahead.
Liz Smith MSP is shadow cabinet secretary for finance and the economy.