We’ve known that tackling the climate emergency would be the prime agenda item for this year’s Programme for Government, and rightly so. The First Minister announced several ‘Green Deal’ policy commitments. These included decarbonising the transport system, the transition away from fossil fuels, and generally stricter criteria for public procurement and investment — more on that in Third Force News

The government’s efforts to combat climate change will grab the headlines, but there were many other highlights and areas of interest for Scotland’s voluntary sector. We heard announcements relating to health and social care, housing and homelessness, credit unions, mental health and young people, social enterprise and volunteering, digital, social security and much more. 

The commitments laid out in the Programme for Government demonstrate how vital the voluntary sector’s campaigning and voice in partnerships can be; especially coupled with the political will. Examples include:

As with most programmes for governments, there was a firm focus on relationships with the sector:

“We will build on collective achievements and reinforce the critical partnerships between national and local government, the third sector and public sector bodies.” 

This chimes with what we’ve said on needing dynamic relationships between government, the voluntary sector and communities to deliver on the equality needs and rights of Scotland’s people as well as our environment. 

I chose the above examples because they highlight the value of partnership and collaboration; not just with government but among organisations across the voluntary sector. We must form mature relationships that embrace our interdependence, as it’s only by doing so that we can work together to deliver the best results. The Programme for Government’s focus on partnership with the voluntary sector sets the tone; we must now focus on reality. 

The Programme for Government is ‘guided by Scotland’s recently updated National Performance Framework‘, to enhance the wellbeing of the people of Scotland and secure a positive future for generations to come. SCVO’s Chief Executive recently remarked, ‘we must embrace the National Performance Framework.’For me, that covers government working with the voluntary sector to develop meaningful indicators that help us measure our policies and services against our national outcomes.

It’s not only this that’s key to narrowing the gap between future programme for governments and the equality needs and rights of all Scots. The Programme for Government mentions Scotland’s commitment to open government through its second Open Government Action Plan. Financial openness is a core commitment, and we must use this to drive forward human rights-based budgeting. It requires us to use measurements of transparency, accountability and participation in Scotland’s budget process to secure real responsibility of the voluntary sector and communities in the budget process.  

The commitment to work collaboratively with partners to develop proposals for changes to charity law is welcome. The government and regulator must work with the sector to make sure we make the most of the chance to redesign charity law. Changes to out-of-date legislation must reflect the true story of the modern charity today and in the years to come. I welcome the government’s decision to not rashly commit to change before working with partners to get this right. 

Our sector is pivotal in helping to change the way the public sector thinks about designing policy and services. We are part of the solution, but our role requires adequate representation in strategic partnerships that are well resourced. From the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme Board to the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, genuine collaboration means more than a seat at the table. Only recently, the Scottish Human Rights Commission commented on ‘the lack of specifically allocated funding for the commitment to take forward the taskforce.’ It’s merely one area where we need greater coherence between policy and delivery. 

The Scottish National Investment Bank was mentioned serval times by the First Minister. Many organisations in the voluntary sector would like to see more opportunities for long-term patient finance to help them in achieving their aims. The Programme for Government did not deviate from the commercially driven and private sector tone surrounding the bank to date. Of course, the commitment to combat climate change through the bank’s lending decisions is welcome. We must continue to strengthen the voluntary sector’s value to the Scottish economy in the minds of those shaping this ‘cornerstone’ of our future economy.

The 2019/20 Programme for Government sets a welcome tone for partnership and collaboration between government and the voluntary sector. As the RSA blogged, ‘rhetoric is positive, reality is required.’