Exploring Engagement

Exploring Engagement
The Scottish Government

1. A group of leaders within the third sector came together on 9 February 2011 to explore whether the existing good relations between the third sector and the Scottish Government could be enhanced – looking at a proposal based on the several useful meetings which have been held on specific issues.

2. The discussion looked at how things are done now, and focussed on what, if anything, more is needed.  There was a majority support for something less ad hoc than the earlier meetings between the sector and Ministers and for the overall proposition to be considered further with a short options paper.

3. The group heard that there is an internal group which connects all parts of the Scottish Government in thinking about the third sector (the “Cross-Directorate Group”) – and thought that making links between the sector itself and that group might be beneficial.

4. Meetings that brought the sector into planning for, say, the Scottish Budget, and perhaps other significant policy developments would be welcomed by the sector.  The group was clear that early access to policy thinking would be a major goal.  Groups already exist for specific topics, for example in the environment and in children and young people.  But no strategic engagement group exists.  High level meetings have taken with small groups from the sector – for example on resilience, which led to the 2009-10 Resilience Fund, and last autumn on the Independent Budget Review.  No standing arrangements for convening such groups exist although our partnership with SCVO has enabled useful discussions to be convened at very short notice.

5. The February Group wanted to explore ideas like remit, purpose, function.  We heard suggestions:
• Voice would be a key interest for the Scottish Government – a way to hear a rounded view from the sector which revealed consensus and divergence.
• Breadth of view – hearing from volunteering, voluntary organisations, social enterprise, national bodies (large and small) major service suppliers, employability, environment, culture, disability
• Access: real engagement with the heart of government
• Follow-through: not just a one off meeting – a programme of engagement that built the third sector into government and recognised that the third sector existed beyond government.

Structural Options

6. The February Group did not have time to look at the mechanics of how this would be done.  It asked for a note of some options to enable further discussion:
• The status quo – not broken, don’t fix.
• Recognition and coordination of the subject groups which already exist.  Reporting to a wider audience of their existence and results.
• An annual seminar, with membership similar to the February group, reviewing progress and identifying future challenges.
• The elected SCVO Policy Committee.
• Taking the SCVO Policy Committee as a starting point, add in senior figures from segments not currently involved – such as social enterprise.
• A new representative body – with segments identifying how they wish to be represented – meeting 2-3 times a year, with one meeting with Ministers.
• A group of key thinkers and leaders chosen for their contribution rather than their organisation.

7. Views on how to take forward the thinking on this would be very helpful. Should the Scottish Government convene a working group?  Will the third sector take this on and come back with proposals? 

8. To start things off, please let Iain Murray have your thoughts, which we will then reflect back to the sector.

Third Sector Division
The Scottish Government