Each year at the beginning of September, the Scottish Government delivers its Programme for Government, a set of actions that the government will take over the next year to progress its priorities. Specifically, the programme includes, legislation, spending, policy initiatives, consultations, and the bills that the Scottish Government will be put before MSPs.
Last year’s programme followed the Scottish Parliament election and was, unsurprisingly, heavily informed by the 2021 SNP election manifesto. The Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party Parliamentary Group then delayed publication, no doubt due to last-minute political wrangling.
This year the landscape is different. A year into the SNP’s 4th term in Government, the programme will prioritise actions that progress the 2021/2022 Programme for Government commitments and the National Outcomes.
Scotland’s 40,000 voluntary organisations provide services and support that contribute to achieving all 11 National Outcomes. These social and economic contributions are essentials for Scotland’s post-covid recovery and resilience to the cost-of-living crisis. The Programme for Government should recognise and support these contributions.
I’ve often heard the Programme for Government described as, ‘smoke and mirrors’, an elusive process that’s difficult to engage with and influence. Disappointment often follows publication paired with frustration among voluntary sector colleagues that the sector is neither recognised nor resourced.
The smoke cleared last year when following the Scottish Parliament election, a new team emerged from within the Scottish Government, the Programme for Government Unit, who welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Scottish Government’s internal process. Following these discussions, we arranged a packed out Policy Network session where our members could meet the Programme for Government Unit Team Lead, ask questions, and begin to consider their proposals.
Like many of our members, SCVO have now circulated our proposals to the relevant Scottish Government Departments. SCVO’s proposals for the 2022/2023 programme complement the Scottish Government’s aspirations. Our proposals focus on three areas central to both creating a fair and sustainable operating environment for Scotland’s voluntary organisations and achieving the National Outcomes:
- Multi-year funding
- Fair Work
- Voluntary sector infrastructure
In the 2021/22 programme, the Scottish Government recognised the voluntary sector as key to the resilience of communities across Scotland and committed to working with SCVO, COSLA, and the TSI Network to progress a multi-year funding model for the sector. SCVO welcomed this recognition and commitment, which builds on cross-party support for multi-year funding within the Scottish Parliament. However, little demonstrable progress has taken place; this year’s programme can go further by:
- committing to a longer-term funding model for the voluntary sector across all Scottish Government departments.
- defining multi-year funding for voluntary organisations as a three-year minimum commitment.
To develop a fair, sustainable, multi-year funding model, the Scottish Government could also:
- work with the sector to develop fair, flexible, and accessible funding
- commit to annual inflationary uplifts for public grant funding
- ensure timely communication and prompt payments
- monitor and report on the Scottish Government funding voluntary organisations receive (as described in proposal 3 on voluntary sector infrastructure).
As the Scottish Government strives to become a Fair Work Nation by 2025, SCVO wants to ensure Scottish voluntary organisations have the tools and support needed to provide Fair Work for our sector’s 100,000 paid staff.
The Programme for Government can support job and financial security for the voluntary sector workforce through:
- multi-year funding for the voluntary sector
- timely communication and prompt payments
- a Living Wage uplift in public grant funding as part of the expansion of the Fair Work First criteria to include the Living Wage
- annual inflationary uplifts for public grant funding recognising the impact of rising inflation on the voluntary sector workforce.
Voluntary Sector Infrastructure
Finally, and disappointingly, the Scottish Budget reduced the Third Sector Budget Line by £800,000, to £25.8 million last year. This budget line funds support across the voluntary sector. Without access to information about the specific projects, programmes, and organisations the Third Sector Budget Line funds, SCVO and others cannot understand the impact of this reduction.
To support the voluntary sector to adapt to current and future societal and economic challenges, the Programme for Government should recognise intermediaries and the vital voluntary sector infrastructure they build by:
- developing consistent approaches to partnership working and funding relationships between all government departments and intermediaries, working together to understand funding challenges and find workable solutions.
- ensuring greater access to transparent data on the Scottish Government’s funding of the voluntary sector to enable intermediaries to work more effectively with the government to assess the positive, negative, or neutral impact of potential or agreed spending decisions.
Our sector is an employer, a partner, and a vital social and economic actor. The 2022/2023 Programme for Government is an opportunity to recognise and strengthen Scotland’s voluntary sector, support our workforce and volunteers, and invest in the people and communities our sector works with across Scotland.