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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.

We are co-architects, not the emergency plumber


‌“There’s hope, but we need speedy change”: Anna Fowlie on the recent Civil Society Summit held by Labour leader Keir Starmer

I enjoyed participating in the Labour Party's Civil Society Summit event with voluntary sector colleagues, organised by Pro Bono Economics with NCVO.

There were several shadow ministers there as well as the party leader, not simply making speeches but having a dialogue and listening to challenge and ideas.

Most of the specific sessions were focused on issues where Westminster only has a locus in England, but the overall messaging about respect for our sector, valuing our expertise and an ask for partnership resonated.

We see every day how approaches to reserved matters like immigration, social security and the economy impact on people and communities in Scotland, with charities, community organisations and faith groups having to step in to support people living in poverty, experiencing extreme inequality and in crisis.

From advice services to homelessness, housing, care and mental health, lifeboats to domestic abuse. We see cash-strapped public services retrenching and voluntary organisations over-stretched to breaking point, their staff and their volunteers worn out from their determination to do everything they can to support people, communities and the environment.

What really struck me was that the sector in England has felt under attack. Even household name charities that have been around for centuries feel silenced and alienated.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times are understandably cynical and a bit wary of being seduced by warm words. However, I heard pledges on genuine partnership, respect for the sector’s expertise and a recognition of our role in the economic and social renewal of the country.

Shadow ministers at the event described “an end to sticking plaster politics”. Too often it’s our sector that’s scrabbling around to apply the plasters with stretched resources and no involvement in planning or strategy. One delegate said we should be seen as a co-architect, not the emergency plumber – that summed it up beautifully for me.

I heard a commitment to do government differently. To try build constructive relationships, focused on common goals around people and society, and a recognition that the voice of charities in campaigning is not only legitimate but a welcome part of a healthy democracy.

From a Scottish perspective, we need a different approach to those reserved matters I’ve already mentioned. We need a cleaner, more humane way of doing politics. And we need respect for devolution.

There are practical things that also need to be addressed. What will happen to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and other funds that were flagged as replacements for European funding? There’s currently a cliff edge next year that needs to be addressed urgently. Will governments across the UK work together, regardless of who’s in power?

Sir Keir talked about a new social contract, about workers’ rights. We are used to the concept of Fair Work, and an incoming UK government needs to play its part in ensuring that workers have the security they deserve and are paid properly, without the in-work poverty and precarious work that is shamefully growing every day.

He said: “the relationship between government and civil society needs a reset. Because you should feel that you can speak up on behalf of the people you serve without fear, call out injustice where you see it and continue to push us all to be and do better.” He also said: “we want to harness civil society as one of the three key engines for renewal, working alongside the public and private sectors.”

One thing I’m certain of is that the people who left that summit with a bit of hope, and many more across the UK, will be looking for clear and speedy evidence of change.

Anna Fowlie is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).



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