A Federal Government - Voluntary Sector Accord: Implications for Canada's Voluntary Sector


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Learning from Experience, Respecting Differences

The Compact in Scotland

Scotland took a slightly different route to developing a compact. Here, the compact was developed by a joint working group consisting of representatives from the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO - Scotland's counterpart to the NCVO), from other national umbrella groups, and from the Scottish Office. Voluntary sector leaders in Scotland had seized the opportunity created by the Labour Party's commitment to negotiate a compact and it quickly became apparent to them and to the Blair government that there should be a separate compact for Scotland, given different state institutions and current political circumstances.10 It never really occurred to sector leaders in Scotland to work through any other means than a joint process from the beginning for several reasons. First, the development of a compact took place at a critical period in devolution of power to a Scottish Parliament from Westminster, but when it began there was only one Minister for Scotland, thus reinforcing the value of a joint process involving officials. There was a keen interest by voluntary sector leaders in building strong ties with public servants based in Scotland not only because they hold the real power, but because in anticipation of devolution, good working relationships with the bureaucracy could be extended to the political level. Second, an earlier set of compact-like agreements between the sector and local governments had fallen apart when local government was reorganized from the centre. This resulted in disappointment and a certain degree of skepticism in the sector so that it wanted government officials at the table from the beginning to ensure they were onside.

Like England, however, consultation with the diversity of the sector was important in drafting and building support for the compact, although this process worked mainly through the SCVO networks. This reflected the fact that the voluntary sector is even more highly structured in Scotland than in England. SCVO really could be considered a "peak association" and its counterpart in the volunteering subsector, Volunteer Development Scotland, was supportive of its role in the compact process. Therefore, its lead role in the compact was not contested and the breadth of the sector could be reached through its well developed, somewhat hierarchical network of local councils and organizations. Although members from the sector did not initially have high expectations of what the process would produce, the final text did yield virtually all of what they wanted. In spite of a relatively swift process of developing the compact, it took a year while the Scottish Parliament was being established for the compact to be officially endorsed, thus causing a loss in focus and momentum. As in England, supplemental codes of good practice have been produced, but in this case were developed by the Scottish Executive as guides for government departments, rather than by the sector.11

Given the hiatus in the process caused by devolution, the monitoring process is just being established. As in England, this process will centre on an annual survey and meeting of government and sector representatives leading to a joint annual report that goes first to the Voluntary Sector Forum (comprised of senior government officials and sector representatives) and then to the Social Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament.12 The other important consideration in Scotland is that relationship building through the compact is taking place in the context of a review of two of the most important aspects of the relationship - funding practices and charity law.13 This means that policy irritants related to funding policies, the definition of charity, or governmental institutions for supervision of the sector do not need to be funnelled through the compact and its associated mechanisms. It should also be noted that advocacy is not an issue in either Scotland or England as it is in Canada. Governments in these countries expect voluntary organizations to advocate, whether or not they are registered charities, and, in general, do little to try to regulate such activity.

Notes

10. Other than the process of devolution which was unfolding at the time, a particular concern in Scotland was that it has many more quangos or statutory bodies (crown corporations) than England which affects government's relationship with the sector in particular ways.

11. Since a form of framework agreements already existed between local authorities and the sector, there has been no need to develop these in Scotland.

12. Note that in the creation of new political institutions that are necessitated by devolution, Scotland is attempting to make greater use of parliamentary committees than has been the tradition in England.

13. The review of charity law is being conducted by an independent commission, the McFadden Commission, established by the Scottish Executive. Its focus has remarkable similarity to the issues raised by the Broadbent panel-notable, definition of charity, supervisory institutions, and regulatory reform.


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