The Gathering: First Minister's speech - 8 November 2023

Speech by First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Gathering in Edinburgh on 8 November 2023. 

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Thank you for very much Anna for that introduction, and good morning to all of you.

I hear this is the first time in quite a while that the Gathering is back here in Edinburgh having been in Glasgow for a number of years.

I’m told it’s nothing to do with the benign influence of Andrew Burns, of course, and the former role he played in the local authority here.

But welcome back here to Edinburgh, and good morning to you all. It really is genuinely a huge pleasure to be here as First Minister of Scotland. I was saying to Andrew on the way in here, I’ve had many Ministerial roles over the years but I’ve never had an invitation to the Gathering yet.

So I’m delighted that it took me to become First Minister to be able to get an invitation here. I'm delighted to be here.

You know, there's been incredibly difficult times over the last number of years and all of us are very aware of the difficulties and challenges facing people in their houses, at home, in their local communities, right across the country.

And it is my belief that it is often in the darkest times - in the most difficult of times - that the best of humanity shines through, and I will talk to some of those examples, that the charities that are the third sector organisations that are here - you are the ones who have shone through during those difficult times.

I can think about the international crises that we have faced and are facing. I think about the Ukrainian resettlement programme that we had here in Scotland - of course, this city playing a vital role in that resettlement programme - and how organisations on the ground helped with support, whether it's with, of course, food, whether it was with language, whether it's - of course - bringing a sense of community to those who had to flee their homes; so many amazing examples.

Then of course I think about international crisis we’re currently facing: the devastating scenes that we've seen in Gaza, and of course, in Israel over the last four weeks. And how, when it comes to the recovery of Gaza, it will take an enormous worldwide effort. And there's many people here who I don't doubt for a second are and will be involved in helping those who have suffered - and continue to suffer – so, so much.

And that continuation of suffering is something I will continue to call for an end to - and an end to immediately.

And the suffering we see is exactly why we need to see a ceasefire in Gaza and a ceasefire now.

Friends, the other difficult period I think about is of course the pandemic, and many organisations in this very room were born out of the pandemic because of the challenges they saw in their communities.

I think about my own constituency and the amazing work that G53 Together – that’s the letters and the numbers for the postcode in Pollok.

G53 Together, where they brought a number of third sector organisations together and came up with really innovative solutions - to the point where one day in Pollok, I saw a rickshaw going down the street. I’m wondering what a rickshaw was doing in Pollok.

Well, the answer was it was picking up messages and picking up medicine from the pharmacy, and delivering it to those who needed it.

Why it had to be a rickshaw, I'm not entirely sure to this day. However, nonetheless, I do applaud the wonderful team at G53 Together.

It was just a couple of weeks ago in Brechin, seeing the damage that Storm Babet inflicted upon that community – devastated. Speaking to, trying to comfort as best I could residents who'd seen their houses completely devastated – had had to move out, weren’t sure whether they would ever be able to come back given the extent of the damage.

But the incredible work done by a number of third sector organisations, local, some were national like the British Red Cross, and indeed many others. And then, just last week, I had the great opportunity of being able to meet an inspirational group of young people as part of the centenary celebrations for SAMH, an organisation well known to everybody here.

And hearing the stories of how SAMH had really helped and supported those young people was truly inspirational.

You see, you don't just transform lives, you save lives. And for me I want to acknowledge that. But not just acknowledge it with warm words – though warm words are of course important – what you need to see, what you want to see,  what you demand to see is action.

And in April I set out the three missions that my government will work towards over the course of the next three years. Those missions are to strive for greater equality; for greater opportunity for every single person living in Scotland; and to make sure that they live in thriving communities.

And one of those organisations that I think that really epitomises those three missions is the Yard. Again, a third sector organisation, a community organisation known well to those here – and the challenge from the Yard to the government was funding, but not just the pounds and the pennies as important as they are. But the point that the team at the Yard continued to make to me was that it’s the stability - we need to know, we can't just live those one-year funding cycles, hand-to-mouth, chasing our tail, thinking what we have to do next, how do we fit into project funding - as opposed to just getting on with what they do best:  transforming and saving lives.

And I heard that time and time again from the parents who were there at the Yard. When I spoke to them, a number of parents said to me I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the support the Yard and I said, what – be here in Edinburgh? And they said, no I wouldn’t be here, full stop, if it wasn’t for the support that the Yard gave me.

So in terms of multi-year funding, we are of course working on the Budget – it’s a pivotal time to be with you at the Gathering. We are very much in that Budget process as we speak, and I can absolutely give you firm assurance that work, consideration, of how we give you stability in terms of funding, multi-year funding, is very much underway.

In fact, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice - who I think you'll be hearing from, or she’ll certainly be at the Gathering later today - we have instructed officials around the current funding process, and once as I say we've completed that work, that Budget work, later next month, we'll be able to advise to what extent we can bring forward multi-year funding - and that should include, absolutely will include, a greater number of at least two-year grants where we can, and if we go further we will seek to absolutely do that.

We're making steps absolutely in the right direction, but I acknowledge that there's a lot more to do. We have to go further, and a part of that is of course listening to you about what more can be done.

Let me just also move on to what I think is a shared challenge that we both seek to tackle, and that is reducing poverty.

I talked about the Budget. There will be a very clear message from the Budget, and I don't think I'm giving any secrets away in advance, that reducing poverty and inequality will be central to that Budget. Because, to me, reducing poverty, reducing inequality, is the single biggest challenge facing Scotland other than climate change, which is an existential threat this planet faces. The two, in fact, go hand in hand.

To replenish the energy for urgent and sustained action, especially when times are hard, I think it is important to perhaps celebrate what we have achieved together. I've talked about all those difficult times that we have faced, and we continue to face.

Let's also celebrate where we've had some successes together. I think about statistics that have come out just this year, that tells us that an estimated 90,000 children will be lifted out of poverty this year – that’s 90,000 children who will not have to face the severe reality, the harsh reality, of poverty because of our collective action.

I think about one of the measures that has helped us in relation to those 90,000 children - significantly helped us - and that's the Scottish Child Payment, born of collective action from the third sector.

And then of course, you asked us to double it, to triple, quadruple it. Of course, we've times-ed it by five. And of course you'll continue to push us to go even further, not just in that measure, but on other measures, because there are still far too many children; still far too many people in poverty.

When I think about poverty and the efforts to tackle poverty, I'm so happy to see the Glasgow Child Poverty Pathfinder in action. And what it does of course, as many of you will know, it demonstrates that systems change for public sector reform and helping to shift the dial, to deal with those systemic, endemic problems such as poverty, and by ensuring that organisations work together and collaborate together in a way that is very much person-centred in terms of the support that individual or their families need.

Glasgow Child Poverty Pathfinders helping to solve the immediate and the long-term problems that families face across Glasgow, particularly in relation to poverty. They now have over 100 third sector organisations signed up to participate, and getting real transferable learning, but importantly, also making a significant impact. Something that's really needed in Scotland and beyond, in the face of what seems to be endless, non-stop, continual shocks and crises that we in our communities continue to face.

I'm sure you're all tired of shocks and crises – I know that I certainly am - but I do go back to that point of the pandemic, which was, I think, from a government perspective and I say confidently from a societal perspective, for many of us in living memory some of the most difficult times we've ever faced.

I would never want to go back to that time in government where we had to make decisions about whether or not we should pause cancer screening or not; whether we had to stop access to vital treatment in the NHS in order to preserve urgent and emergency care. Incredible decisions that we had to make around whether or not to restrict people's civil liberties to the point where you can only go for one walk a day.

We never want to go back to those times. But as I said in the beginning, it was during those dark times that we see the best of humanity shine through, and the third sector, organisations, charities on the ground - rooted in their community - showed the very best of humanity.

Creative Stirling, an example, again, a store, I've had the pleasure of visiting earlier this year. Operated a social enterprise since 2016, well-known for its Made in Stirling store - a community gallery, a shop, which supports a collective of hundreds of local artists.

Creative Stirling played an integral role in easing community hardship during COVID-19. The Stirling community food project, which sprung from the hub, is a shining example of this. The day after the shop was closed, 44 King Street was transformed into a food distribution hub – food collected from cafes, restaurants and supermarkets available free of cost to anyone who wanted it.

Now times that project by 100, many hundreds, and we saw projects like that right across the country.

So of course, I'd like to reach a point, it’s my desire to reach a point, where such projects are no longer necessary for community resilience in times of crisis. But whether we like them or not, crises not only bring us together if we let them, they inspire leadership, innovation, and creativity too, and as I say, they demonstrate sometimes the best of community.

For Scotland, and I'll end shortly, for Scotland, I'm very keen that we have a closer working relationship between our private and public sector, where it is in the interests of the wellbeing economy. You’ll know that I created the role of a Cabinet Secretary for the Wellbeing Economy, because for me, economic success means designing a national economy that works for the people and the planet, not the other way around.

And we have some really good examples of where the private sector is working closely with the third sector; where that philanthropy has been demonstrated in a way that is helping to resolve and solve some of the significant challenges we face.

Scottish tech company Amicus committed to a three-year partnership with the Scottish Refugee Council, providing a combination of fundraising, collaboration, laptops, IT equipment. Callum Murray, the founder, the founding CEO of Amicus, said, it's my view that businesses can and should step up to play a supporting role, where possible, demonstrating a commitment to the wider communities we all serve.

The Amicus team are graduates of the Scottish Government's CivTech programme, and in my mind, an excellent example of a young Scottish company striving to use business as a force for good and as a force for change - engaging positively, collaborating with the third sector to tackle some of the significant challenges our communities face.

Creating a world-leading wellbeing being economy in Scotland will ultimately come down to our collective willingness to enter new, unexpected, and maybe at first, sometimes, uncomfortable partnerships.

But of course doing so for one purpose, and one purpose only, to ensure that we have thriving communities.

So whether you're a volunteer, a tech CEO, a trustee - we all have a role in building a better future together.

Friends, after the successful passage of the Charities Act 2023, the Scottish Government is now moving to a much wider review of charity regulation that you have been asking for. I hope that many of you will be able to attend an event taking place later this afternoon that will start some of that process, and I hope you are able to volunteer to raise the quality of our conversations, because we don't intend to do this to you -  we intend to hear from you, and work with you when it comes to those important regulations - that important review.

Because we all share the same goal. We want the review to be shaped by you, the third sector, so please do get involved.

See regulation should support and help charities; should help and support the third sector; shouldn't work against you; shouldn’t overly burden you.

It’s moments in our history like these, when values of our nation's volunteers and how they step up - whether it's delivering food from food banks or to rescue from a flooded home - that inspires us all to do more. It certainly inspires me as the First Minister to do more, and I'm pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to sign up as a Volunteer Charter Champion.

I'd like to end my remarks today, hopefully where I started, which is to say a big thank you to every single one of you. To the staff, to the volunteers - especially the volunteers who give up their time - because every contribution you make to the lives of those around you brings Scotland closer to realising its full potential.

What it also does, of course, is helps to bind us. That collective humanity, at times of crises, at times of help, at times of distress, at times of despair that people have – you step up.

And for our staff – and I say staff, but they always work beyond the hours that they are contracted to - you give so much to so many.

And I want to just end by saying that, although we have made progress - and I'm happy to talk to that I'm sure during the Q&A session - we know there's further we have to go, and I hope when you see the Budget later this year, that it will give you an assurance and a confidence of, not just the warm words, not just the rhetoric - but the fact that we're prepared to put our money where our mouth is.

So thank you all for the dedication, for the contributions, for your time, and importantly for the invitation to the Gathering, and I look forward to taking some questions.

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