Scottish third sector boosted by £7m

Scottish third sector boosted by £7m
By Keith Aitken, Public Finance

Scottish ministers have ramped up their efforts to increase third sector involvement in public services with a £7m package of measures aimed at making charities and social enterprises more businesslike.

The two programmes, which will offer funding and advice, have been welcomed by Scotland’s local authorities. They will be run in partnership with Scotland’s economic development agencies and administered by consortiums of social enterprises picked through open procurement processes.

Today’s announcement represents a vote of continued confidence in the idea of greater third sector participation in public services.  Scottish government sources had privately voiced concern that the policy, which ministers here have promoted for several years, might be tainted by criticisms of David Cameron’s Big Society agenda south of border.

The bigger of the two programmes is the £4m Enterprise Growth Fund. It will award development grants ranging between £25,000 and £200,000 to third sector bodies judged to have presented the most sustainable and ambitious business plans.

It will be backed up by the £3m Just Enterprise programme, designed to provide a range of business help to third sector bodies via an online support hub.

Though the programmes are open to all third sector bodies, they are likely to prove particularly useful to social enterprises, as distinct from traditional charities. Duncan Thorp of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition said they would help the sector provide better public services, for universal social and economic benefit.

Announcing the programmes, Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney stressed the important role ministers saw for social enterprises, community groups and the voluntary sector: ‘They can deliver superb services, from creating employment opportunities to connecting with the most vulnerable people in our society.’

The programmes will draw on the expertise of various bodies, including the Business Gateway advisory service, lately transferred from enterprise agency to local authority control. Alison Hay of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities predicted a ‘productive relationship’ between Just Enterprise and Business Gateway.