The Scottish Executive Review of funding for the voluntary sector: Direct funding from the Scottish Executive (2001)

Written by James Groves

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is the representative body for postgraduate students in the UK. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated students' unions from across the UK; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We have an active Scottish Subcommittee, NPC Scotland, which specifically examines matters affecting postgraduate education in Scotland. We work closely with the National Union of Students and the lecturers' unions. The NPC is a full member of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (membership number 2797).

Principles and powers for funding

The voluntary sector has the potential to administer and deliver, in partnership with the Scottish Executive, a significant proportion of Scottish public services. At its best the voluntary sector combines a commitment to public benefit with a decentralised and efficient management structure. The main obstacle to future development of the voluntary sector in Scotland is, as ever, lack of funds, both capital and recurrent - it is crucial that the Scottish Executive makes adequate grant funding available to enable the voluntary sector to flourish.

We believe such funding should be allocated in a transparent manner, by a body with generic and wide-ranging powers to fund voluntary sector organisations operating in Scotland. We advocate that the Scottish Executive establish a statutory funding council for the voluntary sector in Scotland as soon as possible. The governing bodies of this funding council should include representatives of the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Scottish local authorities and other public and voluntary sector stakeholders. The Scottish Charity Law Review Commission's proposed new body for recognising and regulating Scottish Charities, CharityScotland, should also be represented.

The funding council could allocate grants both directly to voluntary organisations and indirectly to intermediary bodies. These intermediary bodies would then provide support and funding to national and local bodies working either within a particular policy area or for the benefit of a particular client group.

We endorse the proposed underlying principles for voluntary sector funding and the proposals to establish standardised systems for applying for funding, claiming grant, monitoring and evaluating. We agree that some funding should be core grants to specific bodies while others should be linked to named projects.

The Scottish Executive should have the power to administer grants of any size, within reason. It is true that, for many small grants, an intermediary body may be better placed to administer that grant. We believe, however, that a small number of small grants will need to be administered centrally.

Funding for bodies working in post-16 education

We believe that charities, voluntary organisations and other not-for-profit bodies working in post-16 education have the potential to contribute significantly to the Scottish Executive's priorities and objectives in the fields of further and higher education, skills development, knowledge transfer and lifelong learning. Some of these organisations are research-based, contributing to our understanding of lifelong learning. Others, such as the NPC, are representational bodies, working to ensure all stakeholders are represented in public policy debates. Lastly there are bodies that offer advice to students, both prospective, current and completing, such as the Careers Service Unit (CSU).

The Scottish Executive rightly consults these bodies whenever it is drafting new legislation on post-16 education in Scotland. It should also have the power to make grant funding available to these bodies, to enable them to better achieve their objects and to assist the Scottish Executive. Many of these bodies would benefit, for example, from administrative and clerical support, but lack the resources or reserves to employ staff. Grant funding from the Scottish Executive could enable such organisations to take on employees.

A partnership between the Department of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, the Scottish further and higher education sector and the varied voluntary organisations working in post-16 education should, we believe, enable a vibrant and democratic framework for lifelong learning in Scotland to develop.