Voluntary sector has an urgent role to play in Covid-19 recovery

Edinburgh coronavirus

Organisations may not survive without further support and investment, economic experts have warned 

23rd June 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The voluntary sector has an urgent role to play in Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19, economic experts have asserted.

The findings of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery for Scotland were published yesterday, and aim to create a roadmap for the country’s recovery from the massive economic implications the virus has had on the economy.

And the experts have warned that without support and investment, the voluntary sector will struggle to survive, as it faces a perilous financial situation but rising demand.

The group has recommended funding should be flexible and there should be more collaboration around procurement, as well as inviting private investment in the sector.  

The report states: “The Scottish Government should take action to protect the capacity and financial sustainability of the third sector, in recognition of its important role in building and strengthening social capital. It should examine the scope for longer-term funding arrangements for services; more flexible and collaborative approaches to procurement; and new ways to incentivise private investment in the sector.

“The third sector provides a central component of Scotland’s social capital. The activities and services it provides and supports have been of critical importance in maintaining a level of community resilience during the crisis. They will be just as important in the period of economic recovery, supporting young people, employability, health and wellbeing.

“During the period of lockdown the sector has not been able to raise income from trading, fund-raising and investment, so its already thin financial reserves are perilously tight. Looking ahead, the coming recession will certainly increase the demand for the services that the sector provides, while the likely squeeze on public spending following the current large-scale emergency government expenditure will reduce the state’s ability to meet needs, and also reduce the funds flowing to the sector.”

The sector must be at the heart of recovery planning, with further funding needed to solidify its important position.

The report continues: “Given the risks, it seems clear that if a different approach to the sector is not built into Scotland’s recovery plans, it will not be able to carry on as it has in the past. Without support and investment, it might not survive. So we think that it is essential to put the third sector at the heart of planning for recovery and renewal, recognising its critical contribution to the goal of a wellbeing economy in Scotland.

“As an immediate first step, we were pleased to see the Scottish Government’s announcement of a £25 million Third Sector Resilience Fund to address the short-term emergency. But action on a larger scale and a wider front is needed to secure the future.”

Other recommendations made include guaranteeing at least two years of secure employment to young people, to avoid long-term scarring of a generation, and for a significant increase in infrastructure investment, particular in digital technologies, and targeted measures to support the hospitality and tourism industries.

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The report identifies the importance of employment, the environment, education and equality. I agree that each one of these will be vital as we seek to create a society that is resilient, fair, and one in which everyone has the opportunity to be successful. We will now develop a detailed response to the report which will be published before the end of July.

“This report represents a clear call to action that goes beyond the Scottish Government and the public sector. We will only be able to build the kind of post-Covid-19 recovery we want with the active involvement of the private, cultural and third sectors and, importantly, the public. It is therefore vital that everyone continues to work together in the crucial weeks and months to come to deliver the action Scotland needs to recover from the impact of Covid-19.”

Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said: “The advisory group’s recommendations are an important step forward in Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic. It is welcome that the report highlights the crucial role of the voluntary sector at the heart of planning for a renewed wellbeing economy for Scotland – the sector’s place in Scotland’s economic landscape cannot be an afterthought, as so often is the case.

“The collective response of the voluntary sector to the pandemic has been extraordinary, and I am pleased that the group has given this recognition. We particularly welcome the recommendation to protect the capacity and financial sustainability of our vital sector as we move out of this phase of the crisis, a call similar to that from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee before the pandemic struck. We must now find the solutions together.

“While the report is predominantly business-orientated, many of the recommendations have relevance to the voluntary sector which has a role in all aspects of Scottish society from tourism to the justice system. Scottish Government must ensure that the “Team Scotland” effort called for by the advisory group has the voluntary sector at its heart. SCVO’s submission to the group highlighted a range of specific areas in which the sector will have a crucial role to play, and we look forward to seeing that embedded in the implementation of the recommendations.

“As a member of the recently formed Advisory Board on Social Renewal, a coherent response to the many groups reporting in the coming weeks and months will be essential.”