19 May 2005

S2M-2825 Voluntary Sector and the Social Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 19 May 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Voluntary Sector and the Social Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2825, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the voluntary sector and the social economy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Parliament should be one place that has an intimate and deep understanding of volunteering. I hope that none of us was elected to this place without undertaking at least some voluntary work for our respective political parties before qualifying for selection as a candidate. If the Parliament is not the place for an informed debate about volunteering, it would be hard to find such a place. If we leave entirely aside relatively minor differences about the motion and the amendments, we all point broadly in the same direction and bring our experience and contribution to the debate.

I volunteer far too often. This is my 197th parliamentary speech—that might be too many for members and for me, too.

We have had a bit of a hang-up in the debate about definitions. An important point about definitions is that they can be walls that constrain a subject. If something does not fall inside the walls, it does not fall inside the definition. It would be better for us to think of definitions as scaffolding that enables us to navigate to different points in a topic. I hope that we will take such an approach.

For example, when Patrick Harvie was here, he talked about profit. My view about profit is slightly different from his—I do not measure profit just by the folding stuff in my hip pocket. Profit concerns what is delivered back. That may be measured in money, in lives that have been saved or in the personal development of individuals.

Mark Ballard: I will speak for Patrick Harvie, who apologised for having to leave. Does Stewart Stevenson agree that profit is key for many social enterprises? If they are funded only for project work, they have no opportunity to develop reserves, to innovate and to go beyond the work that they have been asked to do. Profit is the key to allowing them flexibility and sustainability.

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that I do not really disagree, although I would not call money profit in that context. It is interesting that the Greens take a more fundamentalist view of money than I do, which is slightly unexpected. However,

we will not worry about that, because we do not really disagree.

A slightly different expression of the sector's financial value is that it has £1,000 of assets per head of population in Scotland, which amounts to £5 billion. That is an effective and real measure of what is going on.

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill that is going through Parliament gives us another insight. As part of my research, I found more than 500 charities with addresses in my constituency. I know that others are active in my constituency but for legal reasons happen to have their head offices in Aberdeen, so they fell through my filter. The number of charities is huge.

What the voluntary sector does is extremely diverse. SCVO figures show that arts and sports account for 17 per cent of activity, that work with children and families accounts for 18 per cent and that community development and social enterprise account for 13 per cent. The SCVO has provided excellent information for us.

We cannot run organisations without income, of which trading, rents and investments provide nearly half—45 per cent. I will consider the sources of funding for the SCVO's panel. I commend the Scottish Executive for increasing its funding by 8 per cent from 2003-04, but we should put that in context. Local authorities did better and increased their funding by 10 per cent. The percentage of household expenditure on donations is only part of the funding but is nonetheless interesting. It rose from 1.5 per cent in 1998 to 2000 to 2 per cent in 2001 to 2003, which is a 33 per cent increase. Well as the Executive is doing, it is clear that it can do more.

The Executive is considering its position on the Big Lottery Fund. From an entirely personal point of view—this is not my party's position—I deeply regret the fact that so many organisations rely on what I regard as the immoral industry of gambling. Furthermore, much of that gambling money is taken from our poorest communities. On a practical level, I am far from convinced that the lottery is of any real benefit.

Volunteer Development Scotland makes the interesting point that it wants volunteers to be properly supported in their management and leadership roles. When we volunteer, we gain a great deal. As John Farquhar Munro said, we become well-trained. However, having looked through the 951 Scottish vocational qualifications, I see that no SVQ relates directly to volunteering. Perhaps we could encourage more young people to make a contribution if they could also gain that benefit. Volunteering can become a habit—an absolutely excellent habit.

Let me end by commending a slightly unusual organisation. The Mozilla Foundation is a worldwide organisation that develops software for public use at no cost. It is a tremendous thing. I have discarded all Bill Gates's rubbish and I now use Mozilla for browsing the web and for word processing. Some 50 million copies of the Mozilla internet browser have just been delivered to people around the world at no cost. Volunteers can do big things as well as small things; we must support them to do both.


Stewart Stevenson
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fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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