Wednesday was the first of SCVO’s series of events on the Scotland Bill taking place this autumn.
It was an opportunity for third sector representatives to come together and debate how we might use Scotland’s new powers to tackle the challenges of poverty and inequality (so nothing big then).
It was also a chance for the sector to hear from David Mundell MP about the UK government’s position on the Bill and for delegates to put their questions directly to the Secretary of State.
The event started with a sobering presentation from Peter Kenway of the New Policy Institute. With just four graphs Peter was able to set a context for these new powers that made the challenges we face in Scotland seem (if possible) even more daunting.
“Mr. Mundell said he welcomed the third sector’s scrutiny and ‘constructive criticism’ of the Bill”
However, the conversations that followed at tables afterwards were optimistic, with delegates talking about the opportunities these new powers present to genuinely do things differently. To create a system of employment support that focused on the individual, to put respect at the heart of our social security system and make connections between the new powers and already devolved policy areas such as housing, health and education.
Then it was time to hear from Mr. Mundell, who started his speech saying that he welcomed the third sector’s scrutiny and ‘constructive criticism’ of the Bill – which is good because he can expect much more of it!
Mr. Mundell went through the Bill in some detail outlining the ‘historic’ powers, and accompanying transfer of responsibility and accountability, coming to the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary also stated that he appreciated the need for clarity on the Bill, making particular reference to the clause on equalities. He committed to making sure that this clause and others were better understood. Although how he would ensure this was not wholly clear.
There were some encouraging signs, with the Secretary saying he was reflecting carefully on the wording of the clause regarding carers, something which has been of great concern to the sector. Yet there were still legitimate concerns raised by delegates in the following Q&A about definitions of disability, the impact of sanctions and Gift Aid.
In his speech Mr. Mundell emphasised the need for a collaborative approach, often referencing the ‘shared space’ between the UK and Scottish Government. Although as it was pointed out by our panel session after the Secretary had left, a shared space is just a vacuum till something fills it.
Lastly, the Secretary said: ‘I am sure organisations in this room will want to know what the plans for the future are, and how they can get involved in the debate.’
Debating how these powers will be used is something we in the third sector have already been doing and have been pushing both governments to do for some time.
I sincerely hope that this debate will soon begin in earnest and that the third sector, with its wealth of knowledge and experience will be included in that ‘shared space’. Yet how we can involve those who will be affected by the Bill in these discussions is vital.
As the third sector has constantly stated throughout this process, the Scotland Bill will affect people’s lives, in particular our most vulnerable. Therefore, its imperative that we get the language in the Bill right, create a piece of legislation that is workable and involve people in shaping the nature and use of these new powers.
I hope this message was heard by the Secretary of State on Wednesday.