Voluntary Action Scotland slammed in official report

Voluntary Action Scotland slammed in official report
Third Force News

Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) has been told to put its house in order in a report commissed by the Scottish Government.

A damning evaluation of Scotland’s Third Sector Interface Network (TSI) described the quality of service being provided by VAS as “inconsistent” with the body lacking credibility in fulfilling its core remit of supporting the network.

The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, called for VAS to have “greater clarity of purpose,” “strengthened leadership and organisational structure”, and “improved governance.”

VAS’s role is to represent and support the TSI network. It has a membership composed of TSIs and is governed by a board of directors from the local interfaces. 

A survey of chief officers and chairs of TSIs found that "views are mixed into the effectiveness of VAS". The report states: "Research participants described the quality of service being provided by VAS as inconsistent and not always addressing all needs."

Many TSIs have been critical of VAS as an intermediary body since its creation in 2009, believing it has failed to represent the network effectively. One TSI manager told TFN they believed VAS had become a “redundant body” existing for the sake of itself and offered no added value to the sector.

The source said it consistently took a “back seat” when it should be offering proactive support to the network.

“TSIs have always envisioned a role where VAS became a champion of their cause, advocating and becoming the conduit between the network and central and local government but that it had failed on all these counts," said the source.

“As a result, most TSIs believe the dissolution of VAS would be a more effective option with the network working towards some form of more effective representation.

“I’m not saying it is an easy task to take on. The network is diverse and disparate. But VAS has proven to be ineffective when support is most needed. It just doesn’t do what we need it to do and therefore its credibility is shot among the network,” said the source. 

A statement from VAS failed to address the criticism levelled at it, however its acting chief executive Allan Johnstone told TFN the recommendations would “form part of the discussions in taking VAS forward in 2017.”

Johnstone said the report didn’t address all the work VAS has successfully undertaken over the last year and that improvements were “ongoing”.

He said: “As part of our work this year we will work on the detail of how we position VAS.

“However I believe the report doesn’t acknowledge a lot of the work we’ve done in terms of the organisational side. In the last 18 months we’ve done a lot of work on the internal operational structure. We have updated finance, staffing, governance.

“These improvements have not been acknowledged enough in the report.”

A Scottish Government spokesman wouldn’t say whether VAS had been given an ultimatum to get its governance sorted. However he said the government would assess VAS’s effectiveness over the next six months.

He said: “The third sector remains crucial to realising a fairer and more inclusive Scotland, to shaping and delivering public services, supporting our communities and providing innovative solutions.

“The Scottish Government commissioned an independent evaluation to provide robust evidence to be used as part of a broader engagement on the future infrastructure of the third sector. 

“Over the next six months, we will hold a number of stakeholder events and discussions to examine how our local third sector infrastructure is organised and how it can be improved. 

“Following this wider engagement, we will draw together recommendations for improvement to be implemented from 2018/19 onwards.”

Comment from Edward Harkins:

I found the headline and tenor of this article somewhat bemusing, given the substance of much of the content of the Scottish Government evaluation? A fair reading of the evaluation could be that the core culpability in the present problems is to do with the TSI’s, individually and collectively.The evaluation includes, for example;"Weaknesses in governance within individual TSIs has emerged as a significant issue and has had an impact on the reputation of TSIs and on the confidence of some stakeholders in the effectiveness of these TSIs. This has impacted on the reputation of the network as a whole."The evaluation goes on to note;"VAS currently has no mandate to intervene and efforts to support improvements in this area have not been sufficiently intensive to date. However, the logical place for this scrutiny role rests with the TSI intermediary body with the option for recourse to Scottish Government as funder where necessary and appropriate. We have noted that as a membership body, any re-focussing of VAS and additional responsibilities in terms of scrutiny must be supported by the membership."The latter seems a rather diffidently balanced observation. Nevertheless, it describes the highly constricted room for manoeuvre on the part of VAS, given ‘sheet anchor’ of the always over-ridding needs for the approval of the TSIs.Perhaps that there are un-attributable reported comments from an unidentified ‘TSI Manager’, are indicative of the daunting ‘interface’ that VAS has to contend with?

Comment from Ken Simpson

I had till now some respect for TFN but this article is bias, unhelpful and the worst tabloid tripe. SCVO should stop trying to undermine the sector.

Comment from Derek Marshall

Dear Third Force News,

For Publication – Reporting on Evaluation of TSIs and VASI am writing as Convenor of Voluntary Action Scotland to point out the inaccuracies in your reporting of the recent evaluation report of the TSI Network and Voluntary Action Scotland. Your article describes the report as a Scottish Government report. It is in fact an independent consultancy report commissioned by Scottish Government. Scottish Government have not endorsed nor accepted any recommendations within it. Nor have they ordered VAS to put our ‘house in order’ as some of your reporting indicates. Your article also describes the report as ‘damning’, yet the report explores and explains the locally tailored approaches taken by TSIs and recognises the strength in this diversity and the weakness in government expectations formed when TSIs were first established. VAS, the TSIs and Scottish Government have agreed to work together, with other stakeholders, over the next six months to identify appropriate recommendations for the future of local third sector infrastructure for implementation in 2018/19 and beyond. We expect the consultancy report to inform this process and wholly support this engagement-based approach as the best means to identify how VAS, TSIs and others can best serve the third sector in the future. Such post-truth reporting by TFN risks damaging and undermining the third sector and we would expect TFN and its parent organisation to shift towards a more fact based and values-driven approach to reporting on the sector in future.

Yours sincerely,
Derek Marshall
Convenor Voluntary Action Scotland


Comment from Susan Smith

In response to Derek Marshall’s letter – TFN has now amended this article online and in its print publication to make it clear this report was commissioned by the Scottish Government and not written by the Scottish Government. We apologise for any confusion this error has caused.

Source: Third Force News