Voluntary Sector

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:28 am on 17th April 2008.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:28 am, 17th April 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1706, in the name of Elaine Murray, on support for the voluntary sector. Time is short, so members' speaking limits will have to be strictly adhered to.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 10:35 am, 17th April 2008

According to Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations statistics, there are 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland, 1.2 million people are involved in volunteering, and the sector employs 130,000 paid staff, three quarters of whom are women. The sector's annual income amounted to £3.87 billion in 2007. Its value to Scottish society and the economy cannot be denied.

The third sector relies significantly on the public sector for income. In a report that was published in February last year for the previous Executive, half the organisations that were surveyed stated that they relied on public sector contracts for over 80 per cent of their income. Of those contracts, 53 per cent were with local authorities and 23 per cent were with central Government.

The historic concordat that the Government is so proud of has changed the mechanism by which funding is allocated to the voluntary sector. In the main, ministers have relinquished responsibility to local authorities and, in doing so, have passed to them the blame for cuts. Labour members warned that there was a danger that if councils were under financial pressures, funding to external organisations would be hit first as local authorities protected their statutory obligations. Funding streams that provide services to vulnerable or disadvantaged individuals may therefore be at risk. The Government said that we are scaremongering, but let us consider some of the evidence so far.

In Aberdeen, there has been a £900,000 cut in funding to the Cyrenians, which provides services to the homeless; £650,000 of revenue support has been withdrawn from the Glencraft workshop; and £120,000 a year has been withdrawn from the Richmond Fellowship, which is a mental health charity. However, voluntary sector cuts have not been confined to Aberdeen. In Edinburgh, the withdrawal of financial support from the Workers Educational Association may result in the loss of premises and staff, and consequently of adult education in the city. In the Highlands, Age Concern has lost £86,000 of council funding. In my area—Dumfries and Galloway—£90,000 of the funding of Independent Living Support, which helps people with drug and alcohol dependencies to sustain tenancies, has been cut, and almost £400,000 has been cut from the Loch Arthur project, which supports people with learning disabilities and runs a successful social enterprise. I understand that, across Scotland, Quarriers is facing cuts this year that total £1.1 million.

On 10 January, the First Minister claimed that there were

"attempts to scaremonger to vulnerable groups throughout Scotland"—[Official Report, 10 January 2008; c 4930.]

I am not making such attempts; I am talking about cuts in funding to real organisations that provide real services to real people.

On top of such cuts, uncertainty exists about eligibility for new funding streams, such as the fairer Scotland fund, which will flatline at £145 million over the spending review period. That represents a real-terms cut of 8 per cent by 2010-11. Major national charities, such as the Prince's Trust, have expressed concerns about the demands that will be placed on them if they are required to apply to 32 different local authorities instead of to one national fund.

There could be worse to come. In the face of the uncertainties that exist about future funding, many councils have, for the time being, rolled forward existing spending commitments, but that approach may be impossible to maintain if funding pressures build further. That is why we will support the Liberal Democrat amendment in the name of Robert Brown, which calls for a review of the operation of the concordat after its first year.

The truth is that one year of Scottish National Party Government has, despite that Government's warm words, reduced the voluntary sector's funding and influence. I want to expand on the latter.

The previous Scottish Executive worked with the SCVO and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on a strategic funding review for the third sector, which examined, for example, the implementation of full cost recovery. That principle, whereby third sector organisations are fully reimbursed for provision of services, including overheads, was endorsed by Her Majesty's Treasury in 2002. I ask the ministers what the current status of that review is and what is happening with respect to the previous Executive's commitment to three-year funding for voluntary sector organisations. Voluntary sector organisations cannot survive being put on hold while details of single outcome agreements, the Scottish investment fund and the fairer Scotland fund are being worked out. The consequences of delay for them are redundancies, demoralisation of staff and, ultimately, reduction of services. Will the Government provide transitional funding for organisations that are affected to enable them to survive until the new funding streams are in place?

The Scottish Trades Union Congress has highlighted concerns about the insecurity of third sector employment contracts, lower wages and poorer conditions of employment as organisations compete to secure contracts. The practice of reverse auctions, for example, whereby authorities advertise care package requirements to attract the lowest bidder, encourages undercutting not only of the public sector, but of other third sector organisations. The third sector's voice needs to be heard, and voluntary sector interests must be represented in the single outcome agreement negotiations. How do ministers intend to ensure that voluntary sector organisations have a seat at the community planning table?

Our motion urges that the funding that has been removed from Project Scotland be reinstated. Independent assessment found that that funding was worth at least £21.4 million to the Scottish economy, that it was 10 times more effective than the jobseekers scheme in getting young people into sustainable employment, and that it delivered £9 million-worth of benefits to partner organisations. If the Government's amendment indicates a rethink on its position, I welcome that, but I question whether the Government appreciates that the third sector is not only about social enterprise. Social enterprises are valuable and important, but aspects of the voluntary sector are about support and sustaining very vulnerable people—they are not really about enterprise. I am not convinced that the ministers appreciate that.

Finally, the previous Executive further extended the exemption from paying water rates for the vast majority of church and village halls from 2006 to 2010. Scottish Labour's response to the Government's consultation on water charges for the next period, from 2010 to 2014, argued for a further extension. I have read the Government's amendment and am absolutely delighted that it has accepted our position.

I move,

That the Parliament applauds the vital contribution made to society and the economy by the voluntary sector; is concerned that pressures on local authority budgets over the period of the spending review will lead to cuts in support to voluntary sector organisations and inadequate payment for the services that they provide; recognises the role that volunteering can play in personal development and urges ministers to restore funding to Project Scotland, and believes that the exemption from payment of water rates extended by the previous administration to 2010 should be further extended.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 10:42 am, 17th April 2008

I am pleased that the third sector is the focus of today's debate and that the motion acknowledges its vital contribution to delivering a stronger, better and more cohesive Scotland. My colleagues and I have made it clear on many occasions that the Scottish Government strongly supports that sector's work and that it wants to see the sector thrive and grow. That is why the Government is making £93 million available to it over the next three years, which represents a massive 37 per cent funding increase. Consequently, I believe that the Government amendment better reflects the support that exists for the sector. I will say why.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

If the minister is right and the SNP is so enthusiastic about the third sector, why are so few back-bench SNP members in the chamber?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

They are out engaging with their constituents and with people in the third sector. That is in the nature of the job we do.

There is a new relationship between the Government and the third sector and between the third sector and local government. That is a key by-product of the concordat. The aims are to help the public sector to access the vital transformational potential of the third sector at local level, and to harness the innovation and quality that it offers in delivering real improvements to people's lives and in stimulating growth. We are convinced that the third sector has that potential.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

No, I will not. I will crack on and ensure that the groundless fears, uncertainties and doubts that are being inculcated by the Labour Party are expunged. We are going to get on the record what we are actually doing, as opposed to the nonsense that Labour members are breeding.

We want local authorities, community planning partnerships and the third sector to work together increasingly closely and collaboratively to deliver better services to their communities. The sector's ability to reach people who are currently not economically active but are desperate to reconnect with the world of work, and to gain increased economic wellbeing and a renewed sense of purpose, should be used. That is what we are about. We are also about ensuring that the third sector helps to design public services that more closely meet the individual needs of real people and their communities, and that that sector can be the catalyst that pulls together and fills the gaps in other public services. It is no surprise that, for local authorities, the third sector can be an essential element in service delivery and in keeping in close touch with communities.

New opportunities exist for councils, which are now free to decide what their priorities are and are free to choose how to secure those priorities. Our approach also creates the opportunity and the motivation for councils to scope and assess both the needs in their areas and the capability of the communities to be involved in meeting those needs. That demands a new and positive approach from councils and communities. Consequently, we are focusing strongly on how the third sector plays into this burgeoning sense of localism. The new arrangements bring a strong focus on the community planning partnerships, offering them a heightened sense of purpose and the means to increase community spirit.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

On localism, two days ago I met representatives of Quarriers who told me that, as a whole, Quarriers has suffered cuts of £1.1 million in this year alone. That is adding up what has happened in many local authorities throughout Scotland. Is the Government interested in what is happening as a whole? Is it monitoring what is happening to charities such as Quarriers?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

We are monitoring and listening. I regret to say that Quarriers has not approached me or my officials directly, which is a problem.

The community planning partnerships are the key element in our trying to effect change and create a new landscape with a much better sense of cohesion out there in the sector. We have categorical proof that the micromanagement style of the Labour Party is essentially a harking back to stasis, and we know that stasis is a recipe for extinction. We must move on.

Of course, we need stability, especially in financial matters, and we are committed to delivering the long-term funding that will make that possible. We are committed to developing local compacts and to moving them forward in a concentrated way. We are also reinforcing local decision making by ensuring that councils for voluntary service and volunteer centres are well funded in 2008-11. They are working closely with us on a strategy that they wish to see, in which they will thrive and connect better with local authorities and in which they will increase local authorities' awareness of the value that can be delivered by the sector. We are working to ensure that that is an absolute success.

We have discussed Project Scotland in some depth in the chamber. We are continuing to fund Project Scotland with a grant of £1.4 million to continue its work in encouraging people of all ages to take part in volunteering. We are also investing a substantial amount of money in the volunteer centres to ensure that, across the board, more people are entering the world of volunteering. Our support for volunteering is clear and unambiguous.

A strong case for retaining the water charges exemption has been made by the voluntary sector through the consultation process that we have initiated. We agree that the principle should be supported and, in due course, we will set out in full our response to the consultation to ensure that people understand our position.

We are driving forward to connect better with local communities and to ensure that the third sector flourishes and grows. Consequently, I trust that members will support the Government's amendment.

I move amendment S3M-1706.2, to leave out from the first "voluntary" to end and insert:

"third sector; believes that co-operation between the third sector, local authorities and the Scottish Government is vital in ensuring a strong role for the third sector; recognises that the Scottish Government is funding Project Scotland and has made clear to Project Scotland that further resources may be available for projects it runs in terms of the Scottish Government's employability agenda, and believes that the exemption from payment of water rates extended by the previous administration to 2010 should be further extended."

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 10:48 am, 17th April 2008

This has the potential to be a constructive and useful debate, but that is not a preordained outcome, of course. Elaine Murray's speech was very thoughtful and she raised some valid points. I agree that we should applaud the vital contribution that is made by the voluntary sector. Throughout Scotland and in all walks of life, volunteers make massive contributions to their communities. Throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland, their contribution has perhaps not been valued as strongly as it should have been, and they have perhaps not received the support—under all parties—that they deserve. It will be useful if we can focus on what the voluntary sector can achieve.

I welcome the fairly strong hint from the minister that the lobbying on the water rates exemption has been successful. If the exemption is extended—as the minister seems to have all but conceded—that will make a major contribution to many organisations throughout the country. All MSPs have been lobbied furiously by organisations in their constituencies and regions. It is an important issue to the voluntary sector, and it is very good news if the exemption is to continue.

I will focus on the role of the sector, not just in terms of what it does but in terms of what it could do and how we can help it to achieve more. My amendment focuses on the need to reduce the burden of red tape. We all agree that red tape is a problem not just for business—although it is often cited in the context of business—but for voluntary organisations, which it affects as much if not more. With the financial pressures that always exist in the voluntary sector, it is difficult for it to comply with the red tape that business inevitably recruits people to deal with. It is important that the Government work closely with the sector to tackle the problems of red tape and to come up with innovative solutions that will allow the sector to deliver what it is best at delivering—front-line services—instead of spending time on administration.

A good example of that was cited in the briefing that was circulated to MSPs yesterday, relating to the cost of administering the existing water charges exemption. If it is costing the sector around £300,000 to administer an exemption that is worth £2.3 million, the balance is wrong. It should not cost the sector so much to administer a relatively small exemption. If we can get action on deregulation of the sector, that will be a positive move.

The sector brings most to delivery of services in Scotland where it is able to deliver different services in different areas, to be flexible and to be much more fleet of foot than many public sector organisations can be. We must be careful not to be overly prescriptive about how the sector should operate; it works best when it is given targets to achieve but is left to decide for itself how best it can deliver the services.

I have some sympathy with aspects of the Liberal Democrat amendment. It is essential that greater certainty be given over funding. We all know that the constant rounds of bidding and re-tendering are a drain on resources in the voluntary sector. We need to get better at allowing greater security and more time for the sector to deliver services. That relates to the important point about the need to reduce the burden of red tape. I therefore have sympathy with much that is in the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Today, Parliament has the opportunity to endorse what the voluntary sector is doing and to offer constructive suggestions about how it can be supported. The danger, I suspect, is that we will descend a little too much into day-to-day politics, although that is what we are here to do. It will be much better for the sector if we can rise above that and focus on how we can act constructively to help the sector to succeed.

I move amendment S3M-1706.2.1, to insert at end:

"and calls on the Scottish Government to work with the third sector to reduce the burden of regulation affecting the sector."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 10:52 am, 17th April 2008

Elaine Murray has chosen a highly topical and vital debate on the voluntary sector. We have had many debates on the voluntary sector in its many aspects. Most of those have been fairly consensual but have raised a number of long-term challenges—short-term, time-limited or matched funding; the divide in staff conditions between the voluntary sector and the public sector; how to entrench the sector's independence—all against the background of a recognition throughout Parliament of the huge value of the input that the sector provides.

Great strides were made by the previous Government in funding the national umbrella groups, enhancing their independence and introducing the voluntary sector compact and the compact with local government. I am proud of the work that we did in that context. However, apart from the welcome Government concession on extending the water rates exemption—an important concession—the debate is no longer consensual. Day by day, the SNP's actions, its unravelling "historic concordat" and its desire for quick fixes are causing more and more grief in the voluntary sector and are undoing much of the good work of the past eight years. Despite the evasions of the SNP amendment, the SNP Government cannot indefinitely avoid responsibility for the extra burdens that it is placing on the voluntary sector and the damaging service cuts for voluntary organisations that are flowing from its funding settlement.

It is manifest from the gobbledegook that we heard from the minister this morning that he is not comfortable with this area of policy. The central problem is that the SNP does not understand the sector in its various forms and has not taken the time to analyse the complex and myriad ways in which the sector engages with funders and with local authorities, in particular.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Will Mr Brown acknowledge the comment that was made to me at a meeting last night by a representative of the voluntary sector, that it feels as though we have gone back to 1996. Does he agree that the minister has singularly failed to address the uncertainty among voluntary sector workers, many of whom have received redundancy notices and have only temporary funding?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Yes, I acknowledge that. A notable casualty was Project Scotland, which has been mentioned on previous occasions. Its funding was slashed with no evidence to justify the cut. That has damaged opportunities for 16 to 25-year-olds and has made a mockery of the Government's pretensions to a proper skills strategy. The modest changes that were agreed by the cabinet secretary—after huge cross-party protests—are welcome, but they do not detract from the short-sighted nature of the original decision.

However, let me concentrate on the things that the SNP Government could do, even within its present policy envelope, to improve the lot of the voluntary sector. The Government could, as the sector has asked, consider a review of the system to guarantee more stable funding. It could build on the previous compacts and, in the light of the move to single outcome agreements, accept a thorough and independent review after a year of the concordat and its key outcomes. A national contract framework could provide a basis for parity with the wages and conditions of the public sector and for fair consideration for the sector in commissioning. The Government could also rein back on unnecessary and destabilising re-tendering procedures, which damage capacity and delivery and cost money for process rather than services.

Some 1,400 disadvantaged young people, for whom funding was previously provided centrally, will no longer have the support of the Prince's Trust because councils have failed to pick up the work. The Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Salvation Army are cutting services for drug addicts and the homeless. Addiction projects in Glasgow and Aberdeen are being rationalised. Day by day, challenges are developing in the sector.

The political argument will no doubt centre on the blame game as to where responsibility for those cuts lies. I suggest that it lies substantially at the door of the SNP Government, but a more important issue is whether the minister, in replying to the debate, will address the specific practical suggestions in the Liberal Democrat amendment for dramatically improving the framework. Those are particularly needed against the background of a tightened financial situation and a credit squeeze that is likely to hit charitable giving.

I move amendment S3M-1706.1, to insert at end:

"recognises the problems facing the voluntary sector caused by short-term funding and re-tendering; believes that there is a pressing need to review the system to provide more stable funding for the sector including longer-term contracts and a national contracts framework; notes the establishment of the voluntary sector compact under the last administration and calls for a revitalised compact between local government and the voluntary sector; believes that this compact must ensure greater dialogue between councils and voluntary groups as to the operation of the local government Concordat and the single outcome agreements, and calls for a review of the operation of the Concordat including its key outcomes and performance indicators following the first year of its implementation."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 10:57 am, 17th April 2008

It is excellent to note that funding for the voluntary sector has been increased by 150 per cent by the SNP's budget. That provides the focus for this debate and is the reason why the SNP amendment talks about the reality in Scotland, while Labour is scaremongering by calling into question the competence of our councils and our Government, and their ability to co-operate with the voluntary sector. We argue that such co-operation is taking place and, for the first time, we are sitting down to consider the question of value. [ Interruption. ] If the Opposition would listen for a minute, we might be able to discuss how value should be looked at.

Robert Brown suggested that we need to value the voluntary sector. I suggest that we need to start to measure value a good deal more carefully. That is why the single outcome agreements that local authorities are currently drawing up are looking at the historical situation, given that many voluntary organisations have grown like Topsy. Someone needs to say, "We need to look at this to ensure that these organisations are doing a job for the community."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

No, I will not take an intervention. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

In respect of the circumstances in the local government area in which I live, I value the way in which the voluntary sector has been helped by the Government in various fashions. For example, a precedent has been created that allows some end-year flexibility so that small amounts of money can be carried over. That will allow the continuation of the work of the Ross-shire Waste Action Network. I value the fact that Highland Council is organising a forum for the voluntary sector to ensure that the value of what the sector does for vulnerable and disadvantaged people is measured carefully. It is high time that was done.

The Labour press release talks about people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, but we have heard nothing about remoteness or the environmental disadvantage that many people in my area suffer. Our local authority is working with the voluntary sector to tackle that. Those are the kinds of issues on which we need to hear a good deal more. I am sorry to say that, this morning, we have heard only the usual tear-jerking stuff about vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Let us broaden out the definition and start to look at these things seriously. [Interruption.] Listen to Labour members. They are the kind of people who have presided over a poverty industry for the past eight years and long before that. What we are trying to do now, through our councils and so on, is ensure that we have an opportunity to take forward a rational debate about the issue. Take Highland Council's proposition. It says:

"We will develop a five year concordat with the voluntary sector in the Highlands governing the Council's £14 million investment."

That is the kind of work that is being taken forward under the SNP Government.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am in my last minute.

In this debate, we need to recognise that, at long last, we have lifted the lid on how things were done in the past and we are seeing where the valuable parts are and where the dross is. We have to support the value.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 11:00 am, 17th April 2008

How can I follow that?

I draw members' attention to my declaration of interests. I am a board member of the Wise Group, which is a major voluntary organisation in Scotland.

First, I seek clarification from the minister. In 2001, the then Transport and the Environment Committee recommended in a report that there should be a targeted water rates relief scheme covering hospices, churches, scout troops and other small voluntary organisations that maintain premises. Today, the minister has announced—if I may put it that way—that the Government is sympathetic to the extension of that scheme. Does he mean that the existing scheme will be maintained or that it will be augmented to cover a wider range of voluntary organisations? What has the minister actually decided? At that time, there was a considerable debate and the SNP had a position. What is the minister's position now? We are not clear about what the Government has decided. Voluntary sector organisations will want to know precisely what relief will be given, to whom it will be given and on what basis it will be available. The current situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Of the two SNP speeches that we have heard, Jim Mather's can be summarised as being the emperor's new clothes. It is hard to summarise Rob Gibson's speech other than by commenting that hard-faced men are beginning to emerge in the SNP who believe that

"voluntary organisations have grown like Topsy" and are far too generous in dealing with social need. That is absolutely not what the SNP said in Opposition. I think that there will be a lot of embarrassment among SNP people in Scotland when they listen to that.

Some important issues need to be addressed in the crisis in which the voluntary sector finds itself. As Richard Simpson rightly said, the crisis is exactly similar to the position during local government reorganisation in 1995-96, when voluntary sector organisations were left in a huge amount of financial uncertainty. At that time, I was involved in a group that was headed by Arnold Kemp and had been set up by the SCVO. In looking at the future of the voluntary sector, we argued strongly for three-year funding. Over the past seven or eight years, voluntary sector organisations have benefited from that continuity of funding and from the realistic expectation that resources would be rolled over. That predictability has allowed voluntary sector organisations to plan, to strategise and to provide greater continuity. They do not have that in the present situation.

In the concordat, there is a read-across from local government corporate plans into outcome agreements but there is not one word about voluntary sector organisations. Local government seems to be accepting its resources but not handing them on to the voluntary sector. That is the emperor's new clothes. That is what is happening in Aberdeen, West Dunbartonshire, Glasgow and throughout Scotland. Voluntary sector organisations do not know what money they will get so they are issuing redundancy notices. The people who will use their services do not know where those services will come from. That is a product of the Government's policy—a consistent, logical consequence of what the Government has chosen to do.

We need transitional funding for such organisations so that they can deal with that uncertainty—an uncertainty that is the Government's fault and a consequence of its actions. I hope to hear from the minister what he will do about it.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 11:05 am, 17th April 2008

The Labour motion starts by stating

"That the Parliament applauds the vital contribution made to society and the economy by the voluntary sector".

I support that statement unreservedly and would go even further. As a board member of Central Scotland Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, I can tell members that the volunteers' work cannot be matched pound for pound by public or private sector organisations.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I am sorry. I do not intend to do so because I want to get a lot into my speech.

Give a voluntary organisation a pound and it can turn it into £10, but give a quango £10 and it will turn it into a pound.

It is clear that the Scottish Government recognises the contribution of the voluntary sector. At the concordat conference on Monday 14 April, John Swinney highlighted the key role for the third sector in effective community planning. The single outcome agreement structure will strengthen the role of the sector by recording officially its contribution as a key strategic delivery partner in each local authority area in Scotland and will give it valuable recognition for the first time in many areas. That recognition will open up a range of possibilities for the sector and statutory partners to look more creatively at resourcing themselves individually and collectively. Partnership bids that will maximise use of resources and move full-cost recovery from theory to tangible fact can be better pursued.

Support to voluntary organisations has been strengthened by the new funding round for councils for voluntary service, which exist to support and develop the third sector in each local authority area, of £11.85 million for 2008-11.

Active community engagement and volunteering are valuable personal development tools that are best delivered at a local level where the value of community activism can best be seen. The Scottish Government acknowledged that by supporting the volunteering partnership in Scotland, which consists of Volunteer Development Scotland—the national centre for excellence—and the network of 32 volunteer centres, one in each local authority area, which exist to grow and develop engagement and volunteering at local authority level. The partnership has just received a three-year funding package of £11.5 million for 2008-11.

Youth volunteering is a vital personal development tool that the Scottish Government has committed to supporting through the millennium volunteer certificate scheme which is run through volunteer centres and funding for YouthLink Scotland. However, with an ageing population, the contribution of volunteering schemes, such as those that are run by community service volunteers, is also important. Support has also been given through the voluntary action fund's volunteering grant schemes.

I turn to the scaremongering that is implicit in the Labour motion. It is clear that Labour hopes and prays that the third sector will run into trouble. The continual and perpetual false claims that councillors will withdraw funding are shameful.

Let me just conclude, Deputy Presiding Officer.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I trust implicitly the SNP councillors. I even trust the Labour councillors. It is just a pity that their leadership does not.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour 11:09 am, 17th April 2008

SNP spokesmen ought to stop pretending. We have had a tartan Tory budget, supported by the real Tories, with real tax cuts; the SNP has to accept the consequences.

Some of my colleagues might be wondering why, given all the statements about the voluntary sector that we had from the SNP in opposition, it is putting itself through this. I will let members into a secret. In a rare moment of candour, Sir George Mathewson said to me that he, Souter and Farmer had given up on the discredited Scottish Tories ever getting Labour out of power in Scotland so they all put their money, resources and support into the SNP. Of course, that succeeded. Now, however, it is payback time. There will be no re-regulation of the buses, because Mr Souter would not like that, and we have had the tartan Tory budget.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

No.

The SNP has to accept the consequences, which are job losses and service cuts, and it must stop pretending that they are not happening.

Such losses and cuts might be acceptable for right wingers such as Jim Mather and Rob Gibson, but what about those with left-wing credentials? Where are Alex Neil and republican Rose today? Their seats are empty—they are skulking away in some corner because they realise what is going on.

Labour introduced ring fencing because real Tory councils—we had them in Scotland at one time—would not spend money on the vulnerable and the old. Colleagues will remember that Tory councils cut rates all the time. We brought in ring fencing to protect the vulnerable, old and disabled, but that protection has been lifted by the concordat. Pat Watters ought to be ashamed of himself for agreeing to that concordat, as any Labour spokesman ought to be.

Now councils have tight budgets and chief officials are asked to find savings, but they are not going to say, "Okay, I'll retire," or, "My deputy and top officials will go." No—it is the home helps and nursery nurses in council services who will go. Above all, it is the voluntary organisations—the outside bodies that councils do not worry about—that will go. That is happening now. Somewhat belatedly, Martin Sime of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has begun to realise that lifting that protection has consequences for voluntary organisations.

The SNP still says that we are scaremongering, but cuts and losses are happening on the ground. Why are thousands of people marching in Aberdeen? I offer a few examples from Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Cyrenians, which supports the homeless, has suffered a £30,000 cut, and the Gorgie Dalry Partnership, which does innovative work in one of the poorest areas of the city, is closing down because of the cuts. We keep hearing from the SNP about asylum seekers, but the Scottish Refugee Council is closing down some of its services because of the SNP cuts. Across Edinburgh, 30 organisations have suffered a 75 per cent loss in funding. That is not scaremongering; that is really happening. That is the reality of the SNP in power, and the party ought to be thoroughly ashamed of itself.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 11:13 am, 17th April 2008

George Foulkes has given us a very interesting speech and an interesting insight into what is really happening in the Labour Party. He has long experience as a councillor, a member of the House of Commons and now as a member here, so I am surprised that he ignores the fact that there are changes in council budgets every year and that, every year, those changes affect the voluntary sector.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I ask the member to let me develop my point.

I do not believe that George Foulkes's description of what is happening this year, in comparison with what happened in previous years, was as full as it might have been. The reality is that there are changes every year. Substantial amounts of money go to the voluntary sector through arrangements such as lottery funding, and projects have to move on when that funding ends. Lots of funding streams end.

One of the interesting things that has happened with the lottery funding stream for the voluntary sector is that Mr Foulkes and his colleagues in the House of Commons agreed to take £184 million of funding that would have come to Scotland. As a direct result, there will be cuts in the voluntary sector here. Those cuts will be much more substantial than those that result from some of the natural changes that happen year in, year out throughout Scotland, no matter which parties are in power in either central or local government.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

No.

The fact is that judgments are always made on the value that is given.

I welcome the fact that, despite the real difficulties faced in Aberdeen as a result of the mismanagement of council budgets, the aye can facility has this week been saved through the efforts of the council, the Government's social enterprise policies and Sir Ian Wood's family trust. I hope that such a model will be rolled out across Scotland—

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

No.

I hope that that model, which encourages the widest possible participation in delivering services, will be rolled out.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I want to develop this point a little more.

I have to say that I do not recall the Labour members who have told us this morning how bad the current changes are thinking that the closure of the Airborne Initiative was such a bad idea.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I will take no interventions from the Labour Party.

Robert Brown was absolutely right to say that too much of the voluntary sector's effort is focused on process. Many groups have to devote a substantial amount of time and energy to applying for and raising funds and having that activity monitored. It is a good idea to reduce such red tape and increase security, but it is patently absurd to suggest that the removal of ring fencing will sound the death knell of the voluntary sector in Scotland. There will be changes, some of which might well be painful, but that is what happens, no matter whether we are talking about the voluntary sector, the public sector or the private sector.

I am delighted to support the Government's amendment.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour 11:17 am, 17th April 2008

I refer members to my entry in the register of members' interests.

A century and more before the national health service was a mere twinkle in Nye Bevan's eye, hospital almoners cared for the sick, comforted the bereaved and counselled the dispossessed. That work was not done out of a sense of paternalism or pity; instead, it was a matter of professionalism and commitment, and the ethos followed by those early almoners remains apt for the dynamic and diverse third sector, which in my area covers a range of organisations from the Highland Hospice to the Highland Community Care Forum.

Like many members, I have worked in the voluntary sector. I have been a volunteer with the Samaritans and Citizens Advice Scotland; I have been an unpaid director with Highland Homeless Trust; and I have been employed by the umbrella organisation of the sector, the SCVO. I have campaigned and organised on the front line of the sector and have seen at first hand the quality of work being carried out in various areas, from rural development to the provision of autism services.

The sector's very scale should act as a wake-up call to commentators who accuse Scots of being a nation of couch potatoes. Scotland has 1.2 million volunteers, 45,000 organisations with a formal set of rules and 18,000 regulated charities, and the sector has nearly 130,000 paid staff—or about 5 per cent of the Scottish workforce. The sector's income represents 4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

As we all know, the third sector is part of civic society and encompasses churches, faith groups, trade unions and professional associations. Indeed, it played a key role in the constitutional convention, which framed the ideas and principles behind the Parliament.

I give credit to the previous Administration for recognising the sector's contribution and value. As members have already pointed out, it introduced a number of initiatives such as the Scottish voluntary sector compact, the review of direct funding, the strategic funding review and Social Investment Scotland, which was set up in 2001 to build capacity through loan finance. Full cost recovery and three-year funding contracts are also very important for the sector.

To be fair—as I always am, Presiding Officer—the current Administration seemed to be very positive about the sector when it took office almost a year ago. However, the reality is different on the ground. For example, as we have already heard, the SNP-controlled Highland Council has cut £86,000 from Age Concern Scotland, which now has to find the money from its own resources. The funding for Aberdeen Cyrenians has been cut by £900,000 and, in Edinburgh, the Ark's funding has been cut by £74,000.

In Highland, we will soon see a huge cut in funding for those who look after our elderly people's needs. These organisations are not, as Rob Gibson has suggested, growing like Topsy; they exist to meet the needs of the vulnerable in our communities. Although the excellent and well-respected Highland Community Care Forum might have had a stay of execution, many are worried about its future. Moreover, every voluntary and youth sports organisation in Highland faces a real-terms cut as a result of the £50,000 saving that the education department is seeking to make in its budget.

On top of all that, the Highland Council is about to embark on a major revision of charges for accessing the school buildings that are used extensively by the voluntary sector. Organisations face being squeezed not only by cuts and savings but by increased charges. Is the third sector being squeezed out by the concordat? Moreover, what will be the effect on users of mental health, disability and vulnerable elderly services? We must stand up for the voluntary sector, and I urge members to support my friend Elaine Murray's motion.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 11:21 am, 17th April 2008

Derek Brownlee was wrong to say that this debate would be constructive. Instead, we have seen speaker after speaker for the SNP squirming around, trying to change their party's position. A year ago, they called every cut in funding to local voluntary services an absolute disgrace and blamed the Government for letting them happen; now they are saying that such cuts are natural and that they are simply what happens. Frankly, Rob Gibson should be ashamed of his speech, as should those who applauded it.

The minister and SNP members need a reality check. Real cuts are being made to the voluntary sector in our communities, and they are the direct result of the Government's decision to freeze the council tax and limit the money available to local government. That is the reality; if no one believes me, perhaps they will believe the SCVO briefing, which states that

"Current problems with Third Sector Funding" relate to the local government funding settlement and

"Specific funding decisions taken by Local Authorities".

Members have highlighted the voluntary sector's major contribution to our economy, but we should also remember that we rely on it to provide key drug and alcohol services; services to offenders to prevent reoffending; pre-school and child care services in many of our deprived communities; and welfare advice and debt counselling services to help the poorest in our society deal with their many problems, particularly in the current economic situation. People with mental health problems rely on the voluntary sector to provide counselling and advocacy services, and the sector also provides support to the deaf and blind communities and many other people with disabilities. Moreover, those with long-term illnesses rely on the sector for specialist services to support them in their daily life. The sector provides vital services to some of the neediest in our community, and this Government is simply not respecting it.

The sector faces serious problems, some of which are long term. I do not claim that the previous Administration got everything right, and changes need to be made. We need, for example, to deal with the problem of short-term funding and constantly changing funding streams. The nature of project-based funding means that the sector has to change its approach every so often to meet different funding needs; and fulfilling the audit and performance management requirements of different funders requires a huge amount of form filling. Indeed, two different council departments that fund the same organisation might have completely different audit and performance management trails. That situation is simply unnecessary, and I agree to an extent with Derek Brownlee that we need to deal with such bureaucracy.

As we have seen in local government, when savings are required, the voluntary sector is always the first to be hit. That is why so many senior staff in the voluntary sector spend so much time filling in forms and chasing funding instead of supporting and developing the services that their organisations provide. We need to change that situation and provide proper security and support for long-term core funding, not just project-based funding, for those organisations. I am not saying that every voluntary organisation deserves to be funded ad infinitum; they have to show that they are providing a necessary service. However, they need security to develop their services and provide them in the long term.

I am pleased that the Government has hinted that it will continue to extend the water rates relief scheme. However, the treasurers in the village halls and church halls in our communities want the minister to do more to address the uncertainties and worries. They want a clear commitment from him that the exemption will continue; they do not want hints. I hope that he can give such a commitment in his closing speech.

I hope that members will support the Liberal Democrat amendment. SCVO said in its briefing, which arrived late this morning:

"The Lib-Dem amendment focuses on the need for more stable funding for voluntary organisations and a clearer relationship between Scotland's 32 local authorities and the voluntary sector. The problems of short-term and unstable funding mean that some of the most vulnerable people in society who rely on the voluntary sector do not always get the services they deserve due to high staff turn-over and inability on the part of charities to forward plan effectively."

I could not agree more. The briefing continues:

"SCVO strongly supports this amendment."

The Parliament should do so too.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 11:25 am, 17th April 2008

Overall, the debate felt a little rushed. The voluntary sector, which makes a massive contribution to society in Scotland, would probably benefit from a longer, deeper, more informed debate. All parties probably agree on that.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

Not just now.

It is easy to say that the sector makes a vital contribution, but it is worth reiterating the sheer size of the sector and the figures that Elaine Murray used at the start of her thoughtful speech. The voluntary sector in Scotland is worth well over £2 billion and comprises more than 50,000 organisations, which employ more than 130,000 people and have well over a million volunteers. To say that the sector makes a vital contribution is almost to do it a disservice; it is critical to the future of service delivery in Scotland.

I will pick up on a couple of important points that have been made. Derek Brownlee talked about the burden of red tape that the third sector bears, which is the subject of the amendment in his name. It is important that we invest time and energy in resolving the problem. He said, quite correctly, that the third sector should focus heavily on the delivery of front-line services and should not have to spend time in the back room worrying about administration. It is important that we secure a commitment on that. I have no simple solution, but I think that all voluntary organisations and their workers would appreciate it if something akin to the regulatory review group, which considers business regulation, could consider the third sector.

We strongly welcome the commitment on water service charges that is in the amendment in Jim Mather's name and was reiterated by Mr Mather in his speech. A number of parties and organisations have campaigned on the issue for a long time and the Scottish Conservatives have been heavily involved in the campaign. We have lodged motions and tried to bring communities together. It is good news for everybody that the exemption will be taken forward. It is right that the exemption for churches, village halls and smaller voluntary organisations should continue beyond 2010.

We probably differ slightly from the Labour Party in our thinking on where the blame lies for shortfalls that might be experienced. In broad terms, we welcome the reduction in ring fencing. It is right that local councils should make decisions about what happens locally. It is worth pointing out that, as Brian Adam said, considerably more than £100 million that could have come to Scotland via the lottery has ended up being directed to the London Olympics. Surely even the Labour Party must accept that that is a factor in the reduction in funding to certain voluntary organisations.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I will take an intervention from Elaine Murray, because she stood up first.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

The draft Payments into the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund etc Order 2007 was approved on 15 January by 357 votes to 9, so the vast majority of Conservative members of Parliament voted for it.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

As well as the vast majority of Labour MPs.

I point out to Elaine Murray and the rest of the Labour Party, who blame the local government settlement, that there were two occasions on which they could have opposed the settlement, but every Labour MSP in the chamber voted in favour on both occasions. I point out to George Foulkes, who had a go at the budget, that only one Labour MSP had the courage to vote against the budget, so it is trite—

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I am in my final 20 seconds.

As Derek Brownlee said, we want greater independence and autonomy for the third sector. It is critical that there should be a debate about longer-term funding, particularly for proven models of success.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 11:29 am, 17th April 2008

I am pleased by the strong support for and commitment to the third sector that has been expressed by members of all parties. At least we can agree on that—[ Interruption. ] Sorry, I was wrong—the Labour Party disagrees.

My colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, strongly expressed the Scottish Government's belief in the transformational potential of the sector. Perhaps more important, he set out our approach to ensure that that potential is realised. There is no doubt that the sector faces challenges—this is a new environment for the sector, too. However, the key is for people to recognise the opportunities that our focus on localism is providing and for the Government to support the sector to take those opportunities.

We have increased our investment in the national network of councils for voluntary service and the volunteer centres. That funding is specifically intended to support the sector to have access to the new opportunities and to enable it to support the people and organisations that rely on it.

We also made clear that we will work to support a new and stronger framework to enable the third sector to engage with local structures, including councils and community planning partnerships. Of course, that works both ways: we will also support local authorities and others to connect with the sector, to work smarter with it and to enable greater access to procurement processes in relation to service delivery and design.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am not sure whether I followed the minister correctly. He will be aware that the voluntary sector has made strong representation about its exclusion from negotiations about the single outcome agreements. Is he now saying that the sector should be part of those negotiations?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I am saying that we will work with all sectors to ensure that work is taken forward. Of course, there is a working group, which includes the voluntary sector as well as officials, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, as well as SCVO

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The voluntary sector is not included—

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

SCVO is part of the sector. That monitoring group is considering single outcome agreements and is contributing to the progress that we are making in that regard. It is part of the process.

We have discussed the record funding and financial support that we are providing. The water charge exemption is part of that. We know how vital it is to small third-sector organisations to be able to support their communities and causes. We have also made clear our intention to introduce a Scottish investment fund, which will build the capacity and sustainability of individual third-sector organisations, thereby contributing to a more successful Scotland.

However, the issue is more than just money; there are real opportunities to grow the sector, which will bring benefits to the sector, its clients, local authorities and Scotland's economy. Volunteering has a role to play and we have outlined our support for volunteering and the funding that backs that up. We acknowledge the wide benefits of volunteering, which builds skills and confidence and provides volunteers with the satisfaction of knowing that they are making a contribution for the individual that has knock-on benefits for us all. Our support to our national networks, in particular the £11.5 million for the volunteer centres, will help to ensure that there are opportunities to volunteer for as many people as possible, across all age ranges.

Elaine Murray and other members talked about the necessity for three-year funding. A three-year settlement is provided to local authorities and it is perfectly reasonable for local authorities to negotiate with local voluntary organisations in the same manner. It is open to local authorities to do that and nothing prevents them from doing so. It is a bit rich of Labour members to talk about delays in funding. The reason why the process this year has been so delayed is the Treasury's delay in allocating the block grant to the Scottish Government. The delay was caused by the Labour Party in London and Labour members cannot escape from that and the problem that it caused this Government.

Derek Brownlee made good points about the need to strike the right balance on regulation. I absolutely agree that there must be proper regulation but not overregulation.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I fear that the call to rise above day-to-day matters and consider strategic issues has failed. Robert Brown's speech seemed to be fundamentally about scaremongering. He cried wolf again and again, as did many members on the Labour benches. It is nonsense to talk in the way that many members have done—Rob Gibson made an excellent speech, slaying some of the issues that were raised.

For the record and in case members missed it, George Foulkes said—I think I quote him correctly—that Pat Watters

"ought to be ashamed of himself".

I think that that comment will come back to bite not only George Foulkes but the Labour Party.

George Foulkes also mentioned Martin Sime, who said this week—

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Martin Sime said that the removal of ring fencing, which controlled how money was spent, is a development that he can support, is a good idea and is good for local democracy—

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 11:34 am, 17th April 2008

It has been some debate—I have written in my notes that it has been interesting and challenging. We heard what I consider to be an excellent speech from Robert Brown, who gave a tight analysis of developments in the voluntary sector, as did Elaine Murray. I also pay tribute to Rob Gibson, who did the Parliament a service by letting the cat out of the bag and telling us exactly what the SNP is about. I am sure that the minister will come to regret his endorsement of that speech. Rob Gibson told us exactly what the SNP agenda is on the voluntary sector—it is about tackling the "poverty industry". Perhaps he could define that and say which bits of the sector he wants to get rid of. He said that the sector has been growing like Topsy, that that needs to be addressed and that elements of the voluntary sector are "dross". Now we know exactly what the SNP thinks.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Sit down.

The central charge is that Stewart Maxwell, a minister of the Government, dismissed as scaremongering the litany of cuts that we have brought to the Parliament today. On one level, I am flattered by that. He clearly must think that the Labour Party is extraordinarily powerful if he thinks that we could organise all the organisations in Scotland that have concerns to operate at our behest. I did not expect SNP ministers to get so stuck in their cars and offices that they have become disconnected from the real experience of what is happening in Scotland—shame on you, as the voluntary sector minister.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Does the member agree that the cuts of more than £1.1 million in funding to Quarriers will affect children with disabilities, vulnerable families and adults with learning disabilities? Does she agree that it is an absolute disgrace that those cuts have come in the past year alone?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Absolutely—and who knows what the future will bring? That is the hallmark of the SNP Administration, now that we are approaching one year into its time in office. Funding is under threat, services are being lost and there are cuts and uncertainty. That sorry situation is undermining the good work of previous Administrations on the voluntary sector—work that you supported when you were in opposition. As has been said, that work delivered a step change in Government support to the voluntary sector, with a strategic review of funding and three-year funding cycles. I challenge you, minister—I will give way to you on this—to say whether you expect local authorities to give three-year funding to the voluntary sector.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I said clearly that we provide a three-year funding proposal.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

They can. We believe in local authorities and their right to determine what is important locally—that is the difference between Margaret Curran and me.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Minister, that is long enough.

Margaret Curran, can we avoid the second person, please?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I apologise, Presiding Officer—I will do my very best not to use it again.

The previous Administration delivered the historic compact, sustained investment and a framework for volunteering. That work enabled the voluntary sector to innovate and create and to change and deliver, but there is now a real danger that that work is being undermined. Despite the denials that we hear from the SNP, there is a litany of concerns throughout Scotland about cuts and uncertainty. Despite the minister's words, the volunteering sector would tell him that there is a lack of any strategic investment policy. The sector is getting much less funding than it anticipated.

I could spend the rest of my speech talking about voluntary organisation after voluntary organisation that has had funding cuts and is deeply worried. Worst of all in what we have heard today is the Government's refusal to take responsibility for its actions. What is happening in Scotland—ministers can hide in their offices, but it is happening—is not an act of God, but a direct result of ministers' budget decisions. Labour's charge against the SNP is serious and profound. The SNP provided a reduced settlement for local government. Christine Grahame, who is normally around for such debates, has said:

"When local authorities have to find savings, the first thing that they cut is their voluntary sector contributions."—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; c 25204.]

Is that still the SNP's view?

Another issue that is just as important and which the minister did not clarify is that there is now no place at the table for the voluntary sector. We empowered the voluntary sector, but the SNP is reducing its influence. After the SNP's first year in office, we are beginning to see the reality rather than the rhetoric. There is a lack of vital services, from child care to support for homeless people, and from services for people with learning disabilities to health charities and mental health organisations—and we are told that we are scaremongering. The SNP has upset the balance between Government and the voluntary sector, with the sector losing resource and influence.

The SNP has addressed the water rates issue and has partially addressed the issues to do with ProjectScotland. However, I hope that the SNP will provide transitional funding to support our vital services and organisations. I am disappointed that the SNP has not done that already. Just for once, can we have grown-up politics from the SNP? The SNP should face the consequences of its actions, take responsibility for its decisions and recognise the scale and depth of what it has done.

I say to Jim Mather that the concern about those in need that drives Labour members is not about micromanaging; it is about standing up for Scotland. Economic growth and social justice must go hand in hand—that will make Scotland grow. The SNP's cuts illustrate its betrayal of that profound aspiration. It is time to take action now. We have seen a shameful display from the SNP today.