Scotland’s third sector should be ‘innovative, dynamic and focused’

Scotland’s third sector should be ‘innovative, dynamic and focused’
John Swinney
Public Service Review: Devolved Government Issue 16

I am convinced that Scotland’s third sector can and will play an increasingly important role in helping to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society. That’s because third sector organisations – including social enterprises – are often best placed to connect with the individuals the public sector finds hardest to reach, bringing employment opportunities and income where the private sector doesn’t operate.

Since becoming Scotland’s Finance Secretary, it has been both a pleasure and an inspiration to visit third sector organisations around Scotland and become familiar with a variety of public-spirited initiatives. A visit to the Wise Group in Glasgow last year left me in no doubt about the third sector’s transformational potential. The work of its Routes out of Prison project proves that the sector can transform lives in an effective and enduring way.

So I see a clear role for the third sector in building a more successful Scotland and helping the Scottish Government achieve its purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. As a first step, we are providing record investment of £93m for the sector – a 37% funding increase over three years – to enable organisations to become more sustainable.

We launched the new Scottish Investment Fund this summer to help established third sector organisations extend their services to more people and become more enterprising, targeting organisations that can make a key contribution to delivering the government’s strategic objectives of creating a wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, smarter and greener Scotland.

In the first year of the fund – which opened for applications in September – we are particularly keen to see investment in organisations that address issues of employability, environmental action and tackle the underlying causes of health inequality.

In the coming months, we will also open the Third Sector Enterprise Fund. This fund – £12m over three years – will support organisations that want to build their capacity to operate in an enterprising way. Our Enterprising Third Sector Action Plan explains how we will create the right environment for an enterprising third sector – including social enterprises – to thrive, enabling the sector to play a full role in the development, design and delivery of policy and services in Scotland. The action plan will help open new markets for the third sector – working with the public and private sectors – to ensure organisations can bid for contracts successfully and deliver services effectively.

We want to see more service purchasers – such as local authorities – contracting with the third sector, which, in turn, should become better able to compete for and win contracts. For example, a new partnership in Aberdeen saw Aye Can – a city council social work project providing jobs for people with learning disabilities – transfer to the third sector. This is exactly the kind of enterprising approach we want to see more and more of.

So I’m keen to continue the very positive discussions I’ve had with organisations, including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), to ensure we identify further opportunities to realise the sector’s potential.

I continue to be impressed by both the enthusiasm and expertise of Scotland’s third sector. Those I met at the recent Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh had the drive, enthusiasm and vision, which show that the third sector is capable of working with the private sector, government and other public bodies to create the more successful country we all want to see. I want to see Scotland established as a world leader in social enterprise, within a third sector that is innovative, dynamic, and focused on solutions and outcomes.

Together, we can build on the ambitions of enterprising Scots, turn around previously lacklustre economic performance and ensure that more people benefit from an increasingly successful economy.