Brexit nightmare could be “terminal” for charities

Mike russell

Mike Russell at the Gathering. Picture: Lewis Houghton.

Brexit threatens the very existence of "large chunks" of Scotland's third sector

Graham Martin's photo

21st February 2019 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

Brexit is a “shared nightmare” which could be “terminal” for large parts of Scotland’s third sector.

That was a warning given by senior charity and Scottish Government figures, who said “large chunks” of the sector will disappear unless there is a replacement for European funding.

The alarm bells were rung by Mike Russell MSP, the Holyrood Brexit secretary, at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) Gathering event in Glasgow’s SECC.

He was speaking as the he discussed the impact of Brexit – and the third sector’s response.

The cabinet secretary said: “The big issue is peace and prosperity in Europe which has been established by co-operation and collaboration, not that we agree on everything, not that any institution is perfect. But how do our lives, how does our world improve by walking away from that?

“And that’s the question we have to ask ourselves about Brexit. I can’t find an answer to that because they are not better – they are worse.”

Russell added: “The contribution that third sector organisations make to Scotland is immense. I won’t even start to try to quantify – the Scottish Government recognises that, in the good times and the bad, there’s a huge pressure on society in Scotland and more widely as a result of the Brexit process.

“It’s important we work with third sector organisations both to encourage and support their contribution band also make sure they are not terminally damaged by some of the things that are unfolding.”

The issue of deep damage caused by Brexit to the charity sector was raised by Alan Staff, chief executive of Apex Scotland, a charity which works to prevent re-offending.

Referring to widespread concern and confusion about what will replace European funding streams – and doubts about the Shared Prosperity Fund which the Tory government has said will replace EU funds – he said Brexit felt like a “shared nightmare” which could take out a “chunk of the sector”.

Staff added: “The number of third sector organisations which are to some degree or even wholly dependent on European funding is significant and a major worry for many of us, and we were promised vaguely some sort of deal around a wealth dividend which may or may not happen.

“We haven’t got the first indication of what’s going to happen. If it goes, a chunk of this sector will disappear with it and all of the work that goes on in Scotland will go with it.”

Russell agreed, saying the situation could even get “terminal” for some groups: “The so-called Shared Prosperity Fund was announced in the Conservative manifesto in May 2017, and we know no more about that today than when it was published.

“There has been no consultation. It would be terminal for large parts of the sector if that money was not to flow – I think there will be some emergency arrangements but organisations cannot exist on emergency arrangements all the time.”

Russell was also launching the findings of the Children and Young Person’s (CYP) Panel on Brexit, which was commissioned by Children In Scotland.

In it, young people from across Scotland, who weren’t able vote in the 2016 referendum but will have to live with its consequences, have made recommendations on EU funding, opportunities to work, study and travel in other countries, the economy, trade, jobs and human rights.

Joel Meekison, a member of the CYP panel, questioned how the transition would work and what its impacts would be – given that we are now just 37 days from Brexit.

Anna Fowlie, chief executive of SCVO, asked what could be done to heal the rifts which the Brexit process have opened up, about issues which are often nothing to do with Europe.

Russell contrasted the experience of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the recent Irish abortion referendum with that of the Brexit poll – the former two were conducted in a manner that was about debate and engagement, while the latter opened up division.

In its aftermath, he said there has been nothing to compare to even the Smith Commission which followed the Scottish indyref, and blamed Prime Minister Theresa May for not starting an inclusive process where everyone was consulted on how to move forward.

Instead, he said, policy work has been conducted through secrecy and diktat.

22nd February 2019 by Ruchir Shah

Clearly, a very strong open government theme ran through the Cabinet Secretary's critique of Brexit. This is no coincidence as he is also the minister responsible for Scotland's Open Government Action plan, which he launched two weeks ago.

26th February 2019 by John

very one sided opinion and shows little respect for the Scottish third sectors ability to cope with change or does he believe the governments actions which affect charities have already pushed many to their limit.