A challenging year ahead of us

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I’m not sure if I’m a glass half full or glass half empty person. But I think it’s safe to say that the year ahead for Scotland’s voluntary sector will be more challenging than the last.

Firstly, there is the perennial issue of funding. Of course good strategic planning can make it easier to sustain projects and to find new funding streams. But securing donors or applying for grants is time consuming, requires resources, and the outcome is rarely a certainty. Also, fundraising must not only be lawful, but follow the correct application procedure, as some 125 Glasgow voluntary groups found to their cost.

Then there is the added uncertainty for those many organisations who receive annual funding from the Scottish government, local authorities and other public bodies. This follows postponement of the Holyrood Budget after Westminster delayed the UK Budget until 11 March. As SCVO pointed out, this could impact on service provision, and some organisations may have to issue redundancy notices to their staff.

Scotland’s Budget will now be published on 6 February 2020, in what Finance Secretary Derek Mackay described as “exceptional circumstances”, but finalising all the details may well need to be delayed.

So not a good start to 2020; and with a Westminster government hostile to Holyrood, I would expect more attempts by the English tories to undermine Scotland’s authority and institutions.

Another matter is our exit from the EU on 31 January. There will of course be an 11-month transition period after which the hardline Brexiteers will be poised to tear up all our social protections. Indeed, already they are saying the UK will diverge from EU rules, while lower-skilled EU workers will face restrictions much earlier than expected. These statements will only add to the uncertainty faced by local communities, EU nationals and those organisations receiving European funding.

If all this wasn’t gloomy enough, there is also the climate emergency. The voluntary sector in Scotland seems well informed and active when it comes to campaigning; and I hope sincerely that this continues to grow. We need politicians and business to make the necessary change, but a strong voice from civil society can help to make that happen.

Clearly, each of these issues is serious; and taken together they add up to a difficult future for Scotland’s voluntary sector.

So civil society will need to be prepared. We need to maintain a strong voice, nationally and locally; and above all, we need to ensure that voluntary organisations are supported and enabled to deal with the difficulties ahead; and continue to deliver for the people they serve.

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