We Have a Choice

October 15, 2019 CEO blog Theresa Shearer - Group CEO

Last week I addressed COSLA and the Improvement Service Conference- the annual gathering of Scottish Local Authorities in St Andrews. The Theme was 20 Years Since Devolution – We Have a Choice. 

I was invited to speak on behalf of SCVO in my role as Vice Convenor, on the value of partnership working between the local government and the third sector.

I was reflecting essentially on the past, present and future of the Third Sector relationship with our spheres of Government in Scotland and in some ways that sense of pressure is something that we feel all too often in our interactions with one another.

There is no doubt we are living in challenging times. I fully appreciate the cuts and budgetary pressures facing local government, and the spectre of Brexit threatens to add further stress to our already stretched public services.

But as someone once said, “The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other.”

Some of my speech, although not all of it, focused on the delivery of social care services through the third sector.

Some people will tell you charities have simply become public sector delivery agents, but my view is that the fact 70% of third sector income now comes from contracts – up from just 18% 15 years ago – is because people are choosing charities to provide their services, with local government acting as a conduit.

The third sector chooses to be not-for-profit; it chooses to be rooted in communities and in the values of charities’ founders, members, volunteers, staff and service users.  And part of the added value of the third sector as partners is highlighting structural inequalities that require a policy response.

The First Minister also addressed the COSLA conference and made reference to the work that all spheres of Government have taken forward in local communities since devolution and to build a better future together, focusing on the wellbeing of all citizens.

I was delighted therefore in her wide ranging speech focusing to SNP Conference today, Nicola Sturgeon has promised to end council charges for non residential social care if the SNP are elected as the party of the Scottish Government in 2021.

This is welcomed by ENABLE Scotland and our members– these charges have often acted as a barrier to people living the life they choose. Like the First Minister reflecting on the experience of her constituents in Glasgow; I can think of many members of ENABLE Scotland who have lost valuable support to get out and about; meet their friends or attend one of our ACE Groups because charging means they simply can’t afford the support they need.

This has resulted in people who have learning disabilities facing additional barriers to being a full member of the community they live in – they may have support to live on their own but they don’t have the support to be themselves.

This cannot be right. I consider Self-directed Support as one of the greatest triumphs of the Scottish Parliament to date – but I think that we can all agree that the principles of choice and control often seem lost amidst additional charges for services, varying from Council to Council and creating what many view as a postcode lottery.

It is clear that this pledge from the First Minister will be debated and challenged – most obviously in the context of the 2021 Scottish election campaign. How will it be funded and delivered?

But before we get lost in the political arguments – let us all agree that the principle is the right one.  How we fund it must thereafter be the focus of debate.

In her opening speech to COSLA Conference, President of COSLA Cllr Alison Evison  quoted the oft heard phrase that politicians “campaign in poetry and govern in prose”.

We have perhaps heard the poetry on the party conference stage but what of the prose – how can we make it happen whoever is in Bute House in 2021?

Partnership working must be at the heart.

Scottish Government must work with local Government to deliver the ambition of free non residential care; and local Government in turn must work with the Third Sector – as we will be the enablers to make it a reality in communities across Scotland.

I am firmly of the view that by working together, the third sector can support national and local government to do even more in a partnership of equals, delivering bold new policies to deliver an equal society for the citizens of Scotland.

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