Voluntary Sector Funding

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:59 pm on 3 May 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:59, 3 May 2006

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4284, in the name of Donald Gorrie, on funding the voluntary sector. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is concerned about the funding problems faced by many voluntary organisations, including groups involved in youth work, caring, and advice and support-giving services in Central Scotland, to which the general method of public funding contributes, with its over-emphasis on funding mainly innovative projects for no longer than three years; welcomes some useful funding initiatives by the Scottish Executive and local authorities, imaginative new ways of deciding on the distribution of funding set up by the Big Lottery Fund and other grant givers, some progress towards better targeted funding of community enterprises and the social economy, and full cost recovery in project funding; believes, however, that the funding system should concentrate first on providing successful voluntary organisations with continued core funding, guaranteed so long as a group fulfils its remit of public benefit, and second on providing continuing funding for proven successful projects rather than insisting that projects have to be reinvented to claim that they are innovative, and considers that the Executive, local authorities, other public and charitable grant-giving bodies and the Big Lottery Fund should co-operate in developing policies along these lines.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:05, 3 May 2006

First, I declare my interest: I am the honorary president of two youth organisations and two athletics clubs.

The purport of the motion is not just to have yet another debate about the voluntary sector but to point out that, although the Executive has excellent intentions and warm words in some of its nice documents and does some things right, unhappiness is widespread in the voluntary sector about the sector's funding system. The point of the motion is that the present voluntary sector funding system is largely inefficient and wasteful. The system is ruinous to the voluntary sector, because it goes in for short-term funding of new projects. It creates a huge load of bureaucracy in organisations that apply for funding, which must constantly reinvent themselves to qualify for ever-newer projects.

Instead, the funding system should concentrate on sustaining successful organisations with core funding, however that is described—there is a problem with the term. The basic administrative costs of good organisations that deliver good work for the community should be sustained. Organisations should receive funding to continue successful projects, rather than having to invent new projects.

I have raised the issue for six years or more and nobody has paid much attention but, since I raised it more recently, I have received a wide range of comments from voluntary organisations that agree with what I have said. The comments come from across the board, so it is not a question that involves just one ministry—I am in no way getting at the minister who will respond on the Executive's behalf. The failure is of the system. Whether organisations must deal with departments that are responsible for communities, education and young people, health, the environment, lifelong learning, culture and sport or finance and local government, they all have the same complaint about the lack of core funding and the lack of funding to keep projects going.

I have received responses from organisations from Caithness to Dumfries and Galloway and from Argyll to Dundee. They cover the full range of Executive activities from the cradle to the grave. Responses have been about babies, children, difficult teenagers, learning support, community health, mental health, housing support, the elderly, recycling, young people in all sorts of ways, young people's sexual health, the environment, the arts and sport. How we fund our local and national voluntary organisations is a problem.

We must keep voluntary organisations going. Most receive no funding for basic administration. They receive a cocktail of small grants that they must put huge effort into gaining. They receive funding only for new projects; very little funding is available to continue existing projects. There is huge bureaucratic pressure on volunteers to try to qualify for the new projects.

Virtually nobody produces funding to keep an existing project going. Often, the people who start a project with funding for the first two years say that continuing funding will have to be found, but nobody wants to fund existing projects.

Some of the responses that I have received illustrate the concern and despair of some voluntary organisations. It is said that it appears that new and shiny is good and tried and tested is bad, and that there is big funding for some newish organisations. People talk about a cocktail of funding or a jigsaw of funds. I have been told that people have to reinvent a project, repackage it and then resell it. There is a continual process. Because pilot schemes are so prolific, there is a jibe around that there are more pilots in Easterhouse than there are at Glasgow airport.

People have said that they have found it easier to secure funding to begin new ventures than to sustain projects that are running successfully. They have said that it would be best to collapse the organisation in question and restart under a new name; that having constantly to reinvent projects to get funds is extremely stressful; and that the Executive encourages local authorities and health bodies to partner only national initiatives that are a paper exercise for a short period of time and to which large staffing budgets are attached. It has also been said that continuity of funding would allow voluntary organisations to plan for the future and concentrate on the project in hand, rather than worrying about funding for administration in the years ahead.

It has been suggested that the word "innovative" should be banned from the English language. I do not support that suggestion because innovation of the right sort is good—I am referring to local, bottom-up innovation such as that which the Big Lottery Fund is trying to support through the new fund that was launched yesterday. We do not want top-down innovation that involves some department deciding that we must have a new scheme that is the flavour of the month.

We are making some progress towards full-cost recovery, but there is still a long way to go in that respect. People waste a huge amount of effort in bidding unsuccessfully for grants that they do not receive. There is more and more red tape and forms are becoming more and more complex, which discourages volunteers. Organisations are losing their volunteers at the higher level because they simply cannot stand the pressure.

The grant system is too complex—grants often arrive late—and there is uncertainty. Sometimes people receive only three months' funding or grants are not agreed before the start of the financial year. The administrative complexity is increased by the disclosure work that people must carry out.

Funding organisations have different funding and reporting regimes. An organisation that receives funding from several sources will therefore spend all its time working to submit reports on different dates. Systems are different and there are different age groups, categories and so on.

The Executive and the voluntary sector have agreed a compact, which the Executive largely ignores. Much of the funding that people used to get has been turned off. Funds such as the supporting people fund and the futurebuilders fund are changed so that the voluntary sector can hardly get anything out of them. The voluntary sector needs a lot of training so that it can provide its services in a professional manner and cope with all its problems, but training is totally underfunded.

Councils face huge financial problems and therefore will not replace lottery, Executive or trust funding that is not to be continued. We will also lose European funding, so there is a big problem.

On the positive side, if we had the right system, we would learn from success and spread best practice. There could be a one-stop shop, which would mean that people would learn from one another.

A funding stream is needed that involves representatives of local and national bodies at the national level and local volunteers forums in which councils, local organisations and bodies such as the councils for voluntary service and donating organisations come together and work out what the community needs and what should be funded. Good core funding and good project funding could then be developed for existing projects that work well. They would also work up peer review and monitoring processes, setting outcomes that each project and organisation was to achieve, with those projects and organisations being assessed by their peers on how they did that.

The Executive may not like that proposition, but if it does not, it must work out some proposition of its own. At the moment, the position is totally unsatisfactory and the voluntary sector is suffering greatly. We risk losing the whole thing or seeing a big decline in the voluntary sector unless we get the funding system right. The voluntary sector needs more money, and the money that we invest in it needs to be directed correctly. That is my aim. I hope that the minister will take some notice—if she does, she will be the first minister for six years to do so.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:15, 3 May 2006

I commend Donald Gorrie for his motion, for the tenacity with which he has pursued the matter, and for his comprehensive sweep of the issues. At the risk of giving him a sleepless night, I endorse everything that he has said. He knows perfectly well that I have said a lot of that stuff myself in previous debates.

Much that Donald Gorrie has said is self-evident. From our days on the Justice 1 Committee, I remember when we went round looking at alternatives to custody and diversions from prosecution. Many of the good examples that we saw of various voluntary sector interventions were undermined by exactly the issues that Donald has raised. He called it a jigsaw of funding, with different funding streams and different timescales, in which if someone has a new idea, they seem to be at the top of the queue and if they have been around for a while, they are jettisoned. All those issues have been around for seven years. It is not a party-political issue; it is a commonsense issue. It is not like trying to solve the Iran-Iraq war; the issue could be resolved simply by considering how we fund our voluntary sector.

Often, we come across an organisation that has secured funding for three years from, for example, LloydsTSB, only for the plug to be pulled on it because the company says that it expects the Government to supply the core funding. If that does not happen, the organisation and the work that is done come to an end. The people who were dependent on that voluntary organisation are left with nowhere to go—they are left in the lurch.

The voluntary sector is not, frankly, the icing on the cake; quite often, it is the cake—it is the sector that provides direct on-street help to various people who need help. Whether they are citizens advice bureaux, specialist services for single mothers who are having difficulty, services for the elderly, or whatever, big or small, voluntary sector organisations have found a niche that they serve. If they are serving that niche well, the burden of trying to get funding should be taken off their management. When we visit them, that is what we are told needs to happen. Small organisations spend big swathes of their time working out how to get funding, while big organisations employ somebody to do that for them—all of which seems to be a complete waste of time.

Let us get things into perspective. There are 50,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland, which employ 1.2 million volunteers. In 2004, the voluntary sector's annual income was £2.4 billion. This is a big issue that requires to be dealt with properly. I do not want to repeat much of what Donald Gorrie said about the unnecessary red tape and the reapplications. I commend him for keeping going and I hope that he succeeds before he leaves the Parliament. That would be an achievement.

When local authorities have to find savings, the first thing that they cut is their voluntary sector contributions. In the Borders, CAB services are being cut even in the vulnerable areas, which I have mentioned in debates before—they are being cut in places such as Hawick, which has areas of great deprivation. The people of Hawick have a collective debt of £9 million, yet the town is losing its CAB services. That is not spending to save; that is making cuts that will cause greater problems down the line.

I hope that, along with her team, the minister can find a resolution to the problem. I am sure that that would get cross-party support in the Parliament. No one is blaming anyone in particular. The problem is not insoluble, and the solution is worth delivering. I commend Donald Gorrie once again and hope that he sleeps well tonight—this consensus might not happen again.

My final point is that Donald Gorrie referred to the word "innovative". Can someone tell me what "old innovative" is? I keep hearing people use the term "new innovative". Something is either innovative or it is not, so could we just scrap the term "new innovative"?

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:20, 3 May 2006

Presiding Officer, I apologise in advance to you, the minister and members for departing after my speech. I have to host a reception shortly.

On the whole, voluntary sector funding in Scotland is in a good state. I make no bones about it: I have received positive feedback from the charities to which I have spoken. However, there are certain policies—not necessarily from the Executive—that hamper the effectiveness of some organisations and they need to be addressed. It is important to take stock of such issues to ensure that the funding system is as effective as possible and that the funding reaches those whom the Executive intends it to reach.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has identified legislative compliance and red tape as one of the issues that divert funds from where they are most needed. Today, my intern spoke to Crossroads (Scotland), which provides support and local services to carers throughout Scotland; the charity runs approximately 48 schemes, which provide 1 million hours of care and short breaks for Scotland's carers. In my constituency, Mr John Duncan, who is the chairman of Crossroads (East Sutherland), has made clear his opinions about the cost of registration with the care commission, which is the charity's governing body. To put it in perspective, the cost of obligatory registration is £3,467 over two years; that very high cost diverts funds that otherwise would equate to no less than 273 hours of respite care. In fact, payment of the fees forced the organisation to suspend its befriending scheme until further funds could be secured. I am sure that that was not the Executive's intention.

David Milliken, the director of Home-Start Scotland, is, on the whole, very satisfied with the funding structure in Scotland—that is a tick in the box for ministers. He believes that it has helped his organisation to expand during the past few years. He also believes that it is important that the evaluation of projects is encouraged in an ever-changing society. However, he suggested to me that, particularly for local charity branches, there is a risk that organisations are forced to chase the cash and, in doing so, lose sight of their reasons for being. The tendency for short-term planning and three-year funding schemes is the root of the problem. Three years is a relatively short period of time in the scheme of things. During the first year, projects are mostly getting going; during their second year, they are delivering; and in their third year, they have to reinvent the project to secure further funding. We can see that the process consumes time and energy and leaves organisations with fewer resources to focus on delivering their core activities.

The single most important point in my short speech concerns water rate exemption. If the Presiding Officer does not mind, I will read from a letter that I received from one of my constituents in Caithness:

"As you may be aware the scheme, which runs at the present time, only applies to charities which have been in existence since AND in occupation of their premises since 1999. This quite unfairly excludes a lot of voluntary organisations, all doing valuable work in their communities, and most of which will be modest consumers of water.

The Caithness Branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society has two therapy groups that meet in Wick and Thurso. Until about three years ago they were meeting in premises occupied by Westminster Homes in Wick and Thurso, but following Health and Safety reviews we had to seek alternative premises. They now occupy premises in Wick and Thurso where they face water bills, which, even if metered, are, due to the fixed charges, disproportionate to the usage."

That important service has to meet a heavy cost.

Volunteers are the foot soldiers who make much of Scotland's hidden machinery run. If there is anything really good in the human psyche, it is surely the spirit of volunteering. Volunteering is a kind of selfless giving and our volunteers are a gift to this country. We ought all to recognise that. In addition to tackling the problems that I have outlined, it is our duty to assist, support and encourage volunteers in their laudable endeavours.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 5:24, 3 May 2006

I congratulate Donald Gorrie on securing tonight's debate and I acknowledge his long-standing commitment to the voluntary sector in Scotland.

Donald Gorrie has rightly highlighted the issues of voluntary sector funding. The perennial arguments about core funding and the continued drive for innovation have been around at least since the days of the old urban programme. In many ways, the funding debate highlights some of the core problems that face the voluntary sector. On the one hand, a substantial but ultimately limited amount of funding is available for the sector from local and central Government, the Big Lottery Fund and the vast array of other funding organisations and there will always be strong competition for limited funds. On the other hand, the ever-changing society in which we live means that the voluntary sector must change and innovate in response to evolving needs.

Donald Gorrie is correct in identifying as a problem the need for continued innovation to obtain funding. There is no doubt that many projects and voluntary organisations do great work in our communities and just need the money to continue doing so. However, it is probably also true that those same projects and groups were once new and highly innovative and would never have obtained funding if all funding had been directed only towards long-standing organisations.

There is no easy answer to the funding of the voluntary sector. We need to try to support the core costs of our best voluntary organisations and projects, but we must also ensure that funding is available for new ventures that respond to new needs within communities. We must also recognise that funding is provided by a wide array of different organisations, each of which has its own aims and objectives. It is understandable that those organisations will want the funding that they provide to address the specific goals that they consider important. It is neither possible nor desirable for all such funding to be centrally controlled.

Having said all that, I suggest that the Executive nevertheless needs to lead the way on the criteria that should apply to voluntary sector funding. For example, it should ensure that the funding that is provided to voluntary organisations actually makes a difference to the people of Scotland and improves the lives of people in our communities. I also believe that certain key voluntary organisations require stability in their funding. In particular, I refer to local councils for voluntary service, which play a key catalytic role in the development and sustenance of the voluntary sector at local level. In North Lanarkshire, the newly formed council-wide CVS receives core funding of £125,000 per year from the community regeneration fund and £30,000 from North Lanarkshire Council. That is a great use of Executive and council funding that provides much needed stability for the new CVS.

However, funding also needs to be made available for new projects. We must be realistic about that. Limited funding necessarily means that difficult decisions must sometimes be made. As I mentioned, voluntary groups that receive funding—especially those that receive money from Government agencies—must be able to demonstrate that they are still relevant and that they still meet a need. Funding should not be provided merely because a voluntary group or organisation has always been funded.

I have no doubt that funding has been, and will continue to be, a problem for voluntary organisations. I ask the minister to do all that she can to ensure a steady and dependable stream of funding for our best and most-needed voluntary organisations. I welcome the use that is being made of the community regeneration fund to support the voluntary sector in our most deprived communities. I also welcome yesterday's announcement on how the Big Lottery Fund will change the way in which it funds the sector in the future. Both those things will help to ensure that we improve the lives of ordinary men, women and children throughout Scotland with the help of the voluntary sector.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP 5:29, 3 May 2006

I congratulate Donald Gorrie on securing the debate and on making a speech that covered the issues exhaustively. I am happy to lend my support to his motion.

The work of voluntary organisations is often praised in this chamber. Indeed, the quality of their work is sometimes used to justify the shift from the public sector to the voluntary sector. At the same time, we see funding being threatened. No matter whom I speak to, I often hear concerns about the issue of core funding.

Obviously there is pressure across the board, but when we look behind the funding we see that there is an inequality in the voluntary sector. More than half of all United Kingdom voluntary organisations—56 per cent—have an annual income of less than £10,000. They are small organisations, but they make a difference to people's lives, and their funding has been cut by 10 per cent in the year 2003-04 alone. At the same time, the 10 super-charities have seen their funding increase by less than the rate of inflation, but the disparity between their funding increase and the decrease for the smaller charities is quite stark. I question whether that manifestation of the philosophy that big is better is backed up by research. Is it Government policy that big is better? Why has that disparity occurred? Is it deliberate or accidental, and what is being done to redress it?

Other issues relate to priorities. Karen Whitefield mentioned the Big Lottery Fund. That definitely concerns me and I do not welcome the changes to the national lottery funding of charities, because I do not think that it will address the inequality, particularly in relation to small organisations. When I consider the fact that the Big Lottery Fund will provide £1.5 billion merely to fund the London Olympics, I wonder how many small community organisations will suffer as a result. I am thinking of organisations such as Caledonia Youth in Glasgow, which will have to shut. It provides a tremendous service, which should be provided by the public sector, but there is a gap that that organisation fills. Given the poor sexual health record of areas such as Glasgow, it is horrendous that that dedicated youth service, which has been shown to be innovative in tackling young people's sexual health issues, is being closed down.

That brings me to the relationship between the cuts in funding and the councils. Of course, councils can claim that they are not enforcing compulsory redundancies. Perhaps they are not enforcing redundancies for those who are directly employed by councils, but they are enforcing compulsory redundancies in the voluntary sector, and they are using the excuse that they are funding equal pay compensation claims—which are inadequate in any case—to justify closing down those voluntary sector organisations. That is another argument in favour of the minister, who has some responsibility in that area, releasing core funding to settle the equal pay situation in local authorities.

I support Donald Gorrie's motion, but there has to be a big debate in society as a whole about the accountability of the public services that we deliver, whether through the public sector or the voluntary sector. The absence of democratic community accountability for those services allows funding to be decided by the whims of managers in funding organisations or by the whims of ministers, and that leaves a huge gap in accountability, particularly in the communities that will be punished by the withdrawal of those services.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative 5:33, 3 May 2006

I am pleased to speak in my first members' business debate, and I congratulate Donald Gorrie on bringing a worthy topic to our attention.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address a topic that is close to my heart, as I know it is to the hearts of other members. In my past life, I was chairman of the Oban Round Table and president of the Oban Rotary Club. Accordingly, it saddens me to see that numbers in such organisations are dropping. In fact, the Round Table as an international organisation is looking extremely vulnerable. Although they are not defined directly as fundraising agencies, I know from personal experience that such organisations raise substantial sums every year for worthy causes.

Volunteers and the voluntary sector bring enormous value to a service and play a vital role in ensuring that we all live in a strong and cohesive society. The presence of active voluntary bodies in a locality goes some way to renewing the bonds of community involvement, but it seems that despite the fact that the Executive targets £400 million at the voluntary sector each year there is a continuing problem of voluntary sector funding being scarce and precarious.

I welcome the work of the Big Lottery Fund and the investing in communities funding that is being driven into deprived areas of Scotland. However, lottery funding appears to be directed on too many occasions to functions that the Government should support directly. For example, the Big Lottery Fund award for the Edinburgh-based active futures project is welcome as it encourages activities for young people, but I would hope to see more Executive-driven initiatives for successful projects, particularly as we look forward to the London Olympic games and, I hope, the Glasgow Commonwealth games, although the most important aim is to encourage our young people to lead active and healthy lives.

A number of diverse voluntary bodies, many of which perform proven and worthy work, have recently highlighted how the continual need to look towards the next reviews and the next settlement undermines their good work.

There is no doubt about the value that volunteers bring to a service or about the enormous personal benefit that volunteers can gain from volunteering. The Scottish Conservatives have consistently acknowledged the role of the voluntary sector and of people throughout Scotland who understand their responsibility to help the less fortunate. Our view is that that vital role should not be hindered by excessive Government interference and unnecessary red tape.

I am pleased that David Cameron has put volunteering high up on his national political agenda and that his policy review at Westminster is considering such policies as offering longer-term contracts for the provision of services. That would allow the voluntary sector to grow. His plan for a youth community action programme is an original and fresh way to encourage public involvement in the voluntary sector and it could bring genuine benefits and confidence to young people as well as addressing community needs. The Scottish Conservatives are at the start of a consultation process for the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections and we welcome the priority and focus that Mr Cameron has given.

I would welcome further initiatives that serve to encourage greater participation in voluntary work by people throughout Scotland. Statistics that the Executive provided for my colleague Nanette Milne show that Scotland-wide rates of volunteering fell from 27 to 23 per cent between 2002 and 2004.

In 2005, which was the year of the volunteer, the Executive's Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill was passed. Following that legislation, I hope that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Executive will provide guidance and support to voluntary sector organisations to give them financial stability and allow them to grow. I hope that we will see a welcome upturn in the volunteer rate as more and more people are given the necessary information about volunteering and opportunities to volunteer.

It gives me great pleasure to offer the motion my full support.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party 5:38, 3 May 2006

I congratulate Donald Gorrie on securing a debate on a major and specific problem that affects Scotland's voluntary sector.

In our modern age, in which balance sheets are examined and financial gain is considered to be the only desirable end result, Scotland's volunteers play an immense and immeasurable role in everyday life throughout the land. Such volunteering should be both valued and encouraged.

Scottish volunteers assist in a vast range of activities, from parents who are involved in parent-teacher associations, scouting, local football clubs and community events to the army of volunteers in hospitals, charity shops, the Salvation Army, rural village halls and the like who undertake a range of activities that benefit individuals and society as a whole.

The motion directs our attention to the funding problems and insecurity that are faced by youth workers, carers, advice centres and other supportive services in the face of a financial allocation system that is scored on innovation and that has three-year or shorter funding terms.

The lack of assurance on funding and continuity for proven, successful projects can lead only to short-termism, lack of security and lack of consistency in meeting what are, by definition, continuing needs. There must be greater co-operation among funding bodies to develop a longer-term sustainable financial strategy.

Although I welcome progress towards better targeting of community enterprises and the social economy, there is also a clear need to concentrate scarce funding resources on existing successful volunteer organisations that work for the public benefit and to ensure continued funding for proven, successful projects.

A more efficient use of scarce funds would also address the sub-problem of extending successful pilots into longer-term projects through core funding and making temporary three-year successes more permanent, based on continuing need and best use of resources. The motion rightly points out that volunteers cover a wide and varied range of activities and that the current funding of volunteer organisations overemphasises one-off projects and limited timescales. Without volunteers, there would be either limited or no additions to core services, for example those at the superb Erskine hospital, where volunteers accompany residents on outings, assist with mobile library services, fundraise and offer general help.

Recently, care 21 produced a report for the Scottish Executive entitled "The Future of Unpaid Care in Scotland", which highlighted the huge contribution that unpaid carers make to the Scottish economy in general and to the lives of their families in particular. The report demonstrated that unpaid carers are the largest group of care providers and, as such, the largest component of the Scottish care workforce, making an enormous contribution to our society. In 2002, 12 per cent of people in Scotland were carers; 63.4 per cent cared for up to 19 hours a week and 24 per cent were caring for more than 50 hours a week. All of that is unpaid and emphasises the direct impact that volunteer organisations have on day-to-day living in Scotland.

The interlocking, diverse nature of those organisations can also be seen in our village and community halls. They are not large, but in rural areas they are the backbone of community life, supporting a vast range of local activities, from education classes and Scottish dancing to Scottish Women's Rural Institute meetings, the scouts, youth clubs and other organisations—all of them essential to the well-being of the local communities that they serve. Many halls have tiny budgets. Indeed, according to the Angus Federation of Village Halls, its investment in village and community halls through local fundraising, lottery grants and Scottish Executive funding is threatened by problems of compliance burdens, forcing it to change its operating procedures, enforce training on volunteers and spend its limited monetary resources on complying with reams of new Government legislation and regulation. The Government should get its act together on that.

Last week, Parliament debated the Executive's Scottish rural development plan, according to which vibrant, rural communities play a key role. I raised the problem caused by that plan not fitting into any larger framework. Today's debate highlights that lack of an overall framework, too. I call on the Executive to implement a new strategy for the long-term survival of volunteer organisations that recognises the importance of volunteers and acknowledges the innumerable ways in which the volunteer sector interfaces with every other aspect of life in Scotland.

I support the motion, which calls for a voluntary organisation funding system that allows such organisations to concentrate on providing successful community enterprises and matches and rewards proven success with continued core funding. That is at the heart of the matter raised by Donald Gorrie.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:43, 3 May 2006

I apologise for being late in joining the debate—I had an appointment outside Parliament.

I thank Donald Gorrie for bringing this matter to a members' business debate. This is the first layer of something important and I hope that there are main party debates on the subject. Karen Whitefield talked about community regeneration and where volunteering fits into that, and in the latter part of his speech Andrew Welsh talked about the importance of village halls. The motion goes right to the heart of the matter when it talks about core funding. I agree with Carolyn Leckie, who spoke about the effects of cuts, some of which may well be occasioned by the amount of money that is being diverted to the London Olympics. I, too, have been concerned that some of the smaller sports clubs and voluntary organisations—not just in Scotland but particularly here—might suffer as a result of money having to be found for the Olympic games and changes to lottery funding.

It is quite ironic that I should appear to be carping about the Olympic games, because I want to speak up for sports club volunteers. The issue is fresh in my mind. At the weekend I was at a swim meet organised by City of Edinburgh Swimming. It was marvellous. About 800 swimmers were there, as were 60 volunteer officials and about 40 volunteer helpers. The event could not have taken place without those volunteers.

All the young people who were there, and not hanging about aimlessly round street corners and getting up people's noses, were doing the best thing that they could do—they were getting fit and were channelling their energy into reaching targets and standards. They were absolutely terrific, and the amount of voluntary effort showed what the voluntary sector is all about. The voluntary sector is right at the core of community life.

However, the scoreboard did not work and the heating was all to pot and could not be controlled. Those problems were to do not purely with voluntary sector funding but with the way in which many services that used to be provided by the leisure and recreation departments of councils are now provided by companies. In Edinburgh, that company is Edinburgh Leisure and it has to operate as a company and attempt to show a profit. Therefore, it cannot look on volunteering more kindly than it looks on other, commercial enterprises.

As a result, people who had come from all over Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, at their own expense, were not treated as Jamie Stone suggested that volunteers should be treated—with great respect and with genuine community thanks for the way in which they had gone about their volunteering. I am sorry if I sound a little het up but I was very het up when I saw the amount of effort that went into the event and then saw that effort being undervalued.

I would also like an extension of the idea that the grannies and grandpas whom I saw at that event can be chaperones, coaches and supporters for all the young swimmers. I would like the voluntary sector, or the voluntary sector in combination with a community regeneration drive, to offer training courses for grandparents so that we can get them involved in the supportive volunteering that I associate with swimming clubs, cycle clubs, boxing clubs and all sorts of sports clubs. We sometimes forget that the people who make all that effort often do not really have the money to do it. Therefore, their volunteering is undervalued and the potential for the development of young people in sport and other areas is diminished.

I thank Donald Gorrie for bringing this debate to the Parliament.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 5:48, 3 May 2006

I, too, thank Donald Gorrie for lodging his motion and ensuring that this subject has been debated today.

Margo MacDonald has touched a raw nerve with me: I think that I am the only minister in the Scottish Executive who regularly does her ministerial papers at the swimming pool at Tollcross in Glasgow at half past five in the morning. We want to acknowledge the role of parents in supporting their families in swimming, and I bow to no one in my admiration of volunteers. I speak as the mother of a fiendishly sporty daughter. She is only 10, but we have already come across fabulous work done by volunteers.

I say to Margo MacDonald that we cannot explain the desire to volunteer, or say that somehow the state should do that work, but we should certainly celebrate the desire to volunteer. I also say that, in my family, the impact of the Olympic and Commonwealth games bids has been felt. At local athletics clubs and swim meets, we see the enthusiasm that has been generated. I do not think that the results of the bids are all bad. Margo spoke about valuing volunteers and about how local authority swimming pools would be different from those run by arm's-length organisations. Here is a huge opportunity for social enterprises in the social economy, and for trusts that have to be businesslike but can nevertheless have social goals.

Although this evening's debate is important, I issue a note of caution to Donald Gorrie. I acknowledge the seriousness with which he lodged his motion, but there is a danger that we will offer a counsel of despair.

In my job, I have the privilege of going around the voluntary sector. Recently, I went to S2S, which was a social enterprise trade fair in Perth, was at the launch of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and attended a local voluntary organisation event in East Dunbartonshire. The voluntary sector faces challenges, but being at those events was not a miserable experience; it felt wonderful and exciting to be at them because people recognised the opportunities that were available. There is always the argument about whether the glass is half empty or half full, but I contend that it is simply not true to say that nothing has changed in seven years. I am not given to bestowing warm words on anyone, so I hope that Donald Gorrie will acknowledge the sincerity with which I say that we understand that the voluntary sector faces huge challenges on funding. However, progress has been made, which we can develop further.

There are interesting debates to be had about the role of the voluntary sector, and I do not think that opinions divide across party lines—there are disagreements within parties about where the role of voluntary organisations fits in. I do not regard the purpose of the voluntary sector to be simply to fill in the gap in local authorities' services. Sometimes voluntary organisations can provide better services than councils can. However, the voluntary sector should not only deliver services; it has a crucial role to play in shaping Government policy and priorities.

Compliance and the challenge of regulation have been mentioned. There is often consensus among members about the need for compliance with regulation. We must be thorough about the consequences of the action that we take and how it impacts on the voluntary sector. That is why it is so important that we continue to have dialogue on that. Donald Gorrie said that we should not have top-down initiatives but, at some point, all of us will have argued for ring fencing of the money that is provided to local authorities to ensure that the voluntary sector gets a share of it.

In his motion, Donald Gorrie welcomes useful funding initiatives, acknowledges that imaginative new approaches to grant distribution have been adopted and notes that progress has been made towards more effective targeting of funding for community enterprises and the social economy. I welcome that recognition of the achievements that have already been made. The approach of the Big Lottery Fund is commended, which we, too, welcome. Through the funders forum, we are keen to ensure that funding is tackled coherently and that we collaborate on planning and delivery.

The motion is right to call for joint working across funding agencies. I can confirm that that is already happening in the development of policy and best practice. As I have said, a funders forum has been established, which will bring together Government, local authorities, wider public sector bodies, lottery distributors and grant-making trusts so that they can take a strategic overview of the funding environment; give them the space to debate approaches to funding; and serve as a crucial arena for discussion of many of the issues that have been raised.

More generally, we have provided the voluntary sector in Scotland with the highest level of funding that it has ever received. In 2005-06, the Executive, its agencies and the non-departmental public bodies distributed £523 million to organisations in Scotland. That figure, which represents an enormous £119 million increase on the sum for 2004-05, illustrates clearly our commitment to and support for the voluntary sector. If it is said quickly, £523 million does not sound that much, but it should be recognised as a significant commitment to the sector. That is not to say that we do not need to address the challenges that people face in accessing that funding.

It is clear that, in funding the voluntary sector, the Executive must support infrastructure and pilots. The challenge is to ensure that we work with other agencies and delivery organisations on how they treat voluntary organisations. Donald Gorrie mentioned the idea of bringing together groups at national level and at local level. We have the compact; the challenge is to make it real by achieving mutual respect both locally and nationally.

The motion advocates the provision of support to voluntary organisations that operate in the areas of youth work, caring and advice, and refers to the need to offer continued support to successful organisations in the form of core headquarters funding. Our children and young people unified voluntary sector fund provides core headquarters funding for many national organisations that work in the fields that Donald Gorrie mentioned. From its total annual budget of £7.2 million, it also provides time-limited grants towards project and capital costs.

We provide 32 headquarters grants and two project grants to national youth organisations, which in 2006-07 will total almost £1.5 million. On top of that, we give £1.2 million per annum to voluntary sector family support organisations and a wide range of other bodies, including some that work to improve children's health and to support families who suffer from the effects of drug misuse. In addition, we have invested £18 million in the futurebuilders programme through Communities Scotland. We recognise that we must address sustainability.

Local social economy partnerships are being established across Scotland with a remit to strengthen local support for social economy organisations. Key partners are being signed up, notably local authorities, enterprise companies and the CVS network. In total, 23 social economy partnerships either have been established or are under development. Those partnerships are critical to taking forward that work.

At the social enterprise trade fair, it was clear that the combination of being businesslike and having social goals is a powerful one. Social enterprises do not want to be stuck with grant dependency, as some characterise the situation, but want to be given the opportunity to develop their business. We have to help them to do that. The strong message that is coming from the voluntary sector is that they are not simply coming cap in hand for more money.

On lessening the burdens on voluntary organisations, we are working towards streamlining our funding procedures. We have introduced a common grant application pack that will be of help to voluntary organisations. We have reviewed our grant conditions, in consultation with the voluntary sector, to ensure that the material that organisations have to submit is consistent, irrespective of the funding source in the Executive. We have started work on a pilot lead funder initiative—in effect a one-stop shop in the Executive—the aim of which is to achieve an evenness and consistency of approach. We understand the powerful nature of giving out that message. We are also looking to develop good-practice guidance on funding for use by Executive divisions. We would encourage others to do the same.

The motion expresses concern about the provision of funding for three-year periods and claims that there is an overemphasis on the funding of innovative projects rather than organisations with good track records. I absolutely recognise that position, but would say to the chamber that there has been progress and movement. The Executive has in hand robust plans for moving forward on funding issues that will allow the voluntary sector to forge ahead with increased confidence and capacity. We have published "A Vision for the Voluntary Sector: the Next Phase of our Relationship", which concludes by saying that Executive funding should focus on organisations that can deliver outcomes and improvements in the lives of people and communities in Scotland. That vision has been welcomed by the voluntary sector; indeed, it was shaped by the sector, working alongside the Executive There is a challenge for the Executive and other funders, but there is also a challenge for the voluntary sector. It has to demonstrate not only its financial expertise but an ability to think longer term and to identify the ways in which it can generate income. That is a test of the sector's professionalism, robustness and ambition.

I accept that there is an issue that has to be addressed to do with three-year funding and innovation. However, I do not want members to think that the Executive does not provide longer-term funding. I could give the chamber a significantly long list of voluntary sector organisations that have been supported for more than five years. It is important that we acknowledge the critical role that those organisations play.

However, organisations should not expect funding in perpetuity as a given. No matter how high the level of funding that is made available to the voluntary sector, it will always be finite. We have to look at how we get organisations to support the work that we recognise is important. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the Executive is not always, and should not always be, the source of funding for organisations in Scotland. Organisations should always attempt to widen their net of funders. We would like to see buy-in at the local level from local authorities, health boards, enterprise companies and other public agencies. By definition, if they are engaged at the local level, they understand better than the Executive does how best to support work at the local level.

An important point was made in the debate on the role of local government, its core business and the way in which it treats and values the voluntary sector. I do not want to see local government driving out services into the voluntary sector but not valuing that sector or funding it appropriately. The issue is to do with the compact and mutual respect.

There are big issues to be considered about the challenges that we face. What is the core business of Government at the United Kingdom, Scotland and local levels? Where does the voluntary sector fit in? We would have a range of views on the matter. Should the voluntary sector do what it does because the Government cannot do it, or because—as I think—the sector can do it better? To what extent can the state intervene to shape and regulate the sector without destroying it? I think that we all share that concern. How can we make a real compact between Government and the sector locally and ensure that there is mutual respect, despite the fact that one party funds and the other party delivers services? How do we strike the right balance in funding between supporting and sustaining organisations that do good work and creating opportunities?

Pilots might be a problem, but the best projects in my community started as pilots, when people had the imagination and the opportunity to test their ideas. No one was going to offer such projects long-term investment, but the situation changed because the pilots were effective.

We must also consider how we ensure that the added value that the voluntary sector brings and the way in which things are done in small organisations are not destroyed by our professionalising the sector as we support it. The point about big charities and small organisations is important. The test for using and supporting the voluntary sector requires us to consider the added value that the sector offers. Should conditions be placed on activity that simply pick out good work and deliver services as a substitute for local government delivery? There are big questions for us all.

We take seriously what the sector tells us about funding. We will continue to work within the Executive and with other delivery organisations to make it as easy as possible for people who have imagination and want to volunteer and deliver something for their communities to pursue their ideas untrammelled by red tape.

The bigger question about where the voluntary sector sits in our view of how services are delivered locally requires a great deal more work. Although some people celebrate the voluntary sector, others regard the sector's work as privatisation. Whatever the weaknesses of the Parliament and the limitations of the Executive might be, it is clear that we have engaged with the voluntary sector in shaping and delivering on priorities. There is respect for the sector, but a great deal remains to be done. I am sure that members of all parties will take the opportunity not just to do the nitty-gritty hard stuff around funding but to consider the bigger picture about where the voluntary sector sits. Those are not warm words that do nothing; a great deal of action is going on, which we can take forward together.

Meeting closed at 18.01.