Scottish Government evaluation critical of Voluntary Action Scotland's role in supporting Third Sector Interfaces
Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) has been told to put its house in order in a report commissed by the Scottish Government.
A damning evaluation of Scotland's Third Sector Interface Network (TSI) described the quality of service being provided by VAS as “inconsistent” with the body lacking credibility in fulfilling its core remit of supporting the network.
The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, called for VAS to have “greater clarity of purpose,” “strengthened leadership and organisational structure”, and “improved governance.”
VAS’s role is to represent and support the TSI network. It has a membership composed of TSIs and is governed by a board of directors from the local interfaces.
A survey of chief officers and chairs of TSIs found that "views are mixed into the effectiveness of VAS". The report states: "Research participants described the quality of service being provided by VAS as inconsistent and not always addressing all needs."
Many TSIs have been critical of VAS as an intermediary body since its creation in 2009, believing it has failed to represent the network effectively. One TSI manager told TFN they believed VAS had become a “redundant body” existing for the sake of itself and offered no added value to the sector.
The source said it consistently took a “back seat” when it should be offering proactive support to the network.
“TSIs have always envisioned a role where VAS became a champion of their cause, advocating and becoming the conduit between the network and central and local government but that it had failed on all these counts," said the source.
“As a result, most TSIs believe the dissolution of VAS would be a more effective option with the network working towards some form of more effective representation.
VAS has proven to be ineffective when support is most needed
“I’m not saying it is an easy task to take on. The network is diverse and disparate. But VAS has proven to be ineffective when support is most needed. It just doesn’t do what we need it to do and therefore its credibility is shot among the network,” said the source.
A statement from VAS failed to address the criticism levelled at it, however its acting chief executive Allan Johnstone told TFN the recommendations would “form part of the discussions in taking VAS forward in 2017.”
Johnstone said the report didn’t address all the work VAS has successfully undertaken over the last year and that improvements were “ongoing”.
He said: “As part of our work this year we will work on the detail of how we position VAS.
“However I believe the report doesn’t acknowledge a lot of the work we’ve done in terms of the organisational side. In the last 18 months we've done a lot of work on the internal operational structure. We have updated finance, staffing, governance.
“These improvements have not been acknowledged enough in the report.”
A Scottish Government spokesman wouldn't say whether VAS had been given an ultimatum to get its governance sorted. However he said the government would assess VAS’s effectiveness over the next six months.
He said: “The third sector remains crucial to realising a fairer and more inclusive Scotland, to shaping and delivering public services, supporting our communities and providing innovative solutions.
“The Scottish Government commissioned an independent evaluation to provide robust evidence to be used as part of a broader engagement on the future infrastructure of the third sector.
“Over the next six months, we will hold a number of stakeholder events and discussions to examine how our local third sector infrastructure is organised and how it can be improved.
“Following this wider engagement, we will draw together recommendations for improvement to be implemented from 2018/19 onwards.”
How the network works
In March 2008, Scottish ministers reviewed the funding of the 120 separate organisations delivering support for volunteering, social enterprise and third sector organisations at a local level, resulting in the creation of 32 single funding agreements to support a network model of integrated service delivery and representation - the Third Sector Interfaces.
The aim was to provide a single point of access for support and advice for the Third Sector within each local authority area and to create strong coherent and cohesive representation of the sector to better align it with the Community Planning Partnerships and the Single Outcome Agreements.
Although the original intention in developing the TSI network was to create uniformity of third sector support across the country, the Scottish Government did not prescribe what form the local interfaces should take, recognising the need for local variation. In practice, the TSIs are very different in structure, scale and in the range of services they deliver. Currently, 22 TSIs operate as single entities and 10 operate through partnerships.