Where being a stakeholder might be a stretch too far


​James Jopling believes a warm welcome from power brokers might be lulling us all into a false sense of security 

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21st July 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

I’m sure many of us who are active in trying to affect national or local policy and practice are pleased that we have relatively open channels to decision makers as well as policy makers in Scotland. Certainly compared to my London based colleagues, I feel we have a comparatively open door to both politicians and civil servants. And our comments and questions are well received.

But I am beginning to wonder if that relationship needs resetting as the political environment we work in matures and develops?

For example, I’m acutely aware of the daily work pressures that civil servants are under in the many areas relevant to the work of Samaritans. And that time they spend answering parliamentary questions might take away from more strategic thinking or commitments that could contribute to the health and wellbeing of this country in a bigger way. But what if that knowledge ends up stopping me asking friendly MSPs to ask those questions in the first place? 

James Jopling

James Jopling

I’m pleased that so often the third sector are considered key stakeholders in the development and delivery of significant new programmes and policies. 

But I’m also aware of feeling that sometimes we are asked, at short notice and with no financial recompense, to contribute significant pieces of work that help develop that new government initiative. 

Or that we are asked to work alongside government to deliver the programme through our own communication channels. 

Of course it can lead to our voice and view being heard and it’s good to feel part of the process and thanked for contributing.  I’m just not sure that this is always a reasonable and fair use of our own resources?

We do need to be mindful that the open door of decision makers doesn’t blind us

I think we do need to be mindful that the open door and warm welcome of decision makers doesn’t blind us to times when we may feel that initiatives and strategies simply aren’t on track. And that when that happens we need to be bold and confident enough to say so when it is our beneficiaries who may be the ones being disadvantaged. 

When we are round the table helping some of those initiatives to be developed then of course it might also feel we aren’t in a place to criticise. However constructively that is done.

There are many examples of experienced, mature relationships between national and local government in Scotland and third sector agencies who manage to be both that critical friend and a key stakeholder. 

I would consider my former employer Shelter Scotland as an organisation who balance this incredibly well.

I just wonder now and then if we aren’t all being leant on a bit too heavily? That we may be becoming a little too conservative in our attitudes and approach. And that ultimately we are running the risk of not always being the clarion call for change that all those who support us need us to be.

James Jopling is executive director for Scotland at Samaritans