Exclusive: Voluntary Action Scotland axed as Scottish Government pulls funding

Third Force News, by Robert Armour

Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) is to be axed after having its funding pulled by the Scottish Government.

The shock announcement was revealed yesterday (Tuesday, 19 December) at a hastily arranged meeting in Edinburgh to which acting chief executive Allan Johnstone was summoned along with 35 representatives from Scotland’s network of third sector interfaces (TSIs).

VAS, which has a remit to support Scotland’s 32 TSIs, is currently funded until next September after which its core funding of around £250,000 will go back into the network.

It comes after the Scottish Government published a damning report in January into VAS’s support for the network, calling on it to urgently get its house in order.

The report called for the body to have “greater clarity of purpose,” “strengthened leadership and organisational structure”, as well as “improved governance.”

However since then VAS has struggled to rebuild its reputation with many TSIs highly critical of its role and leadership.

Core grant funding amounting to £8.2 million was given to the TSI network last year. Some £44m has been granted since 1 April 2011.

An official at the Scottish Government confirmed to TFN that VAS will no longer receive funding.

Instead the government will continue to support individual TSIs with plans in place to recruit an individual whose job will be to “engage and support” the network.

A Scottish Goverment spokeswoman said: “We have confirmed we will not be funding VAS beyond September 2018. Our overall allocation to support TSIs and the network is not being reduced.

“We are retaining the resource currently supporting VAS for the TSI network, to create flexibility to respond to ambition and collaborative approaches, and to continue to support network support, knowledge and practice sharing.

“Our priority is supporting TSIs to deliver against an ambitious vision that puts them at the heart of local decision making and ensures they can support and respond to the needs of local communities.”

While it is feasible VAS could continue to exist if it finds funding, one source told TFN the fact the Scottish Government has “lost patience” with the body is a damning vote of no confidence from which it is unlikely recover.

“It can’t come back from this,” they said. “At the meeting it was openly understood that VAS had failed on a number of levels and that civil servants were extremely disappointed in its leadership. Who is going to fund an organisation that is effectively rudderless and dead in the water?”

The source continued: “It’s a tough job but it has never been the organisation the network wanted it to be. We wanted support and direction if and when required. Instead VAS became an empty vessel which, I believe, existed for the sake of itself.”

Allan Johnstone failed to respond to TFN’s repeated requests for comment but the board issued a statement after the story broke (see below) saying it was concerned by the removal of a “much needed voice of the community sector at the national level during an important change process.”

At the meeting, a Scottish Government official said she wanted individual TSIs to “lead in their locality”.

A source attending the meeting said there was never any question of VAS’s funding being reinstated.

“Criticism of VAS has been mounting,” they said. “Even if every TSI at yesterday’s meeting backed VAS, the funding would have still been pulled. The Scottish Government isn’t at all happy. It was palpable.”

VAS has a membership composed of TSIs and is governed by a board of directors from the local interfaces.

Its last accounts show an income of nearly £430,000. It currently has a staff of six, one of whom receives a salary of around £60,000. Total salary costs amounted to £215,000 in the last financial year.