New year, new hope for a bright future


Martin Sime believes that 2016 is a year for Scotland's third sector to think big! 

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12th January 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on what the third sector brings to the table. What skills and resources do we have and how can we use them to best effect?

Our assets are immense but under-appreciated. The value of people doing things for themselves and each other – the essence of voluntary action – remains marginal to what has become a very sterile debate about public service reform. It ought to be front and centre since no other strategy comes close to being sustainable.

Whilst our politicians are out preening themselves in front of their electorate it is worth thinking about this in the context of their promises of more government, more public servants working in more prisons, schools and hospitals. The third sector needs to be an antidote to all of that.

Scotland is feeling its way towards a more participative democracy and the third sector can add momentum to this cause

Our USP has always been an ability to mobilise people and communities. Most Scots choose to help the third sector in one way or another. Can these same people be encouraged and supported to do more? To get their family and friends involved? To become even more active campaigners for our many good causes? To come together to exert greater influence over public policy? The possibilities are endless.

Scotland is feeling its way towards a more participative democracy and the third sector can add momentum to this cause – we are, after all, the people who breathe life into the parliament and government every day of the week by giving evidence to committees, lobbying MSPs and engaging with officials. We should be aware of the dangers in restricting such activities, as the Lobbying Bill would seek to do.  

Public donations are another huge asset, so we need to give our best attention to maintaining public trust in charity. This year decisions need to be made about how we set standards and regulate our fundraising. If public attitudes matter to you then you need to get involved in the way forward here.

2016 is also the year we must do something about the contract culture which is gradually throttling the life out of parts of our sector. The fashion for procurement via competitive tendering is at its peak but little public good has ever come of it. The anticipation that continuous savings can be made is an illusion. The damage done to human services and the organisations and people who provide them is immense. Can the third sector advance a convincing alternative?

Unacceptably high levels of unemployment, poverty, loneliness and chronic ill-health mean that demand for third sector interventions will remain high. Person-centred, asset and rights-based approaches will continue to be the only convincing strategies around. Our rural communities will continue to lead the way on community development – the rest of us could learn a lot from land buyouts, development trusts and energy projects. 

The same applies to other fields of work. Marys Meals, the Homeless World Cup and the International Network of Street Newspapers are Scottish inventions which resonate around the globe (and are much better brand ambassadors for Scotland than alcohol or food). Our hospices for young and old are hidden gems in the art of partnership between citizen and state. The Food Train, Young Scot and our growing network of food banks are exemplars of what can be done when citizen action is aligned with investment and good strategy. 

“Yes we can!” was the slogan of hope which helped Obama to get elected. It’s a great thought to guide us through 2016. Good luck with your adventures.