CAF at SNP Conference – examining the future of charities in Scotland

Last week saw the SNP gather in Aberdeen for their annual party conference, the party’s first since replacing the Liberal Democrats as the party with the third-most seats in Westminster, and their final conference before elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016.


In Aberdeen, CAF hosted an event in partnership with SCVO, looking at the future of charities in Scotland, and seeking to explore the opportunities and challenges that voluntary organisations will face in the coming years. At this event we launched research that we carried out with ComRes which investigated the attitudes held by Scottish voters towards charities – you can download a copy here.


Our event began with introductory comments from CAF’s Chief Executive Dr John Low, who explained that CAF’s research found that voters want charities to be a voice for the voiceless, and that there is also concern amongst the public about politicians not understanding charities. He stressed the widespread support for action to engage young people in volunteering and giving, encouraging SNP politicians to work with those from other parties to secure progress on this issue.


CAF SNP fringeSCVO’s John Downie then gave an overview of the landscape facing Scottish charities. He warned of the challenges of ongoing financial constraints, which might be continued by the conclusions of the Comprehensive Spending Review, before criticising the UK government for pursuing a ‘war’ against charities. Citing press coverage surrounding the death of Olive Cooke, Kidz Company and stories about fundraising, he praised the resilience of both charities and donors in Scotland, but warned of the need to maintain public trust. He ended by arguing that there is not enough collaborative working across the voluntary sector.


Gavin Newlands, the recently elected Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, spoke next. He praised the generosity of Scots, citing the response to the refugee crisis as an example of how committed to helping others many in Scotland are, before explaining to the audience that he’d spent much of the summer spending time with charities in his constituency. He spoke of the valuable role of charities in aiding and informing his work in Westminster, and criticised the Westminster Government for introducing the Lobbying Act, which he branded as ‘anti-charity.’


Sandra Wilson, the Chair of RNIB Scotland, argued that charities make a huge contribution to life in Scotland, especially when the voluntary sector is able to speak with a collective voice. She warned that sometimes charities taking on services can cause issues, and stressed the importance of charities engaging with people of all ages. Referencing stories in the media about fundraising, she called for efforts to raise money to be both intensive and sensitive, and argued that that there needs to be a positively portrayal of people by charities. Sandra finished by praising the generosity of Scots, but warned UK-wide charities that people want to see money raised in Scotland spent in Scotland.


Our final panellist was the Daily Record’s Political Editor, David Clegg. David spoke of the importance of his relationship with charities, referring to the Record’s campaign against the ‘Bedroom Tax’ which he campaigned against with support from charities, who were able to supply him with case studies and statistics. He explained that sometimes charities are reluctant to trust journalists and newspapers, but argued that those relationships can be mutually beneficial. However he acknowledged that there is the need for the media to act as a critical friend towards charities, scrutinising activity and raising any issues of improper activity.


Following these comments, an audience-driven discussion ensued, covering topics ranging from charity governance and the role of trustees, to the challenges of demonstrating impact, lobbying, and chief executive pay. It was great to see such interest in our event, and the calibre of contribution from both panellists and attendees alike made it a success. Conference season 2015 is now over, but we’ll be bringing more conclusions and thoughts in the next few days!

Steve Clapperton

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