Shepherd and Wedderburn survey highlights potential opportunities for Third Sector in Scottish local government

1 December 2011

Shepherd and Wedderburn survey highlights potential opportunities for Third Sector in Scottish local government

Research conducted on behalf of leading UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn amongst senior executives in Scottish councils shows potential of increased Third Sector involvement in delivering local government services north of the border.

The Ipsos MORI research, conducted amongst CEOs and other director level executives across a number of Scottish councils, shows 86 per cent of them agreeing that some local services could be provided just as well by the Third Sector or volunteers with only six per cent disagreeing. Asked whether they were planning to take on volunteers as staff numbers fell, 70 per cent indicated it was likely. Only 30 per cent felt volunteers would be used in place of paid staff.

While the research suggests local authorities are well-disposed towards Third Sector service provision, Malcolm Rust, a partner in the charities practice at legal firm Shepherd and Wedderburn says that voluntary and charity organisations need to proceed with caution.

He said: "Charities and other voluntary groups are being leant on in these challenging economic times to fill a gap that's opening wider, with public spending cuts biting hard on already cash-strapped local authorities. I think the survey results are very telling. The challenge to the third sector is clear: with reducing finances, and more demand for their services, we're seeing many struggling to make income meet expenditure which is putting pressure on reserves where the group is fortunate enough to have reserves.

“Securing short to medium term finance arrangements for charities to allow them to continue to meet their existing, and new, commitments, is a much harder thing these days but vitally important. The pressure for local services is only increasing, and at the most basic level, if charities are to be used more to support the delivery of such services, it is inevitable that there will be winners and losers, with the losers likely to be the most vulnerable in our society."

Sally Ann Kelly, Acting Director of Barnardo's Scotland said: "To some extent organisations are being hit by a perfect storm of falling donations and the Government spending squeeze, while demand for services inexorably increases. Charities like Barnardo's Scotland have a choice - our response to this new climate will help define what we can deliver to those we help.

"The standard Government rhetoric 'belt tightening, recruitment freezes and trimming round the edges’ simply won't deliver the changes required. The most important thing we can do as voluntary sector service providers is be realistic about the pressures national and local government budgets are under. We believe we should adopt innovative approaches and build stronger partnerships to deliver them. The current financial position must not be used as an excuse for failure, but as an opportunity to re-think how we deliver for the most vulnerable children and young people."