SCVO The Gathering: speech

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, opens the Scottish Voluntary Council's Gathering 2018.

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Thank you, Andrew, and congratulations on your appointment as convener of SCVO. I certainly look forward to working with you in the years ahead. I also of course look forward to working with Anna Fowlie when she takes up her position as the new Chief Executive in April.

In addition, I want to put on record my thanks to Andrew and Anna's predecessors - Shula Allan and Martin Sime. They have made a huge contribution not just to SCVO but to the third sector, and I am sure that all of us wish them all the best for the future.

I also want to thank all of you for making it here so bright and early. I follow SCVO on twitter, and I was quite taken a few weeks back by a tweet that had been liked by SCVO – it said "Signed up for the Breakfast with NicolaSturgeon session at scvogathering next month. Then realised that it starts at 8am… An hour and a half drive away." The hashtag was "notamorningperson". Which I absolutely sympathise with.

And so to that individual – if you're actually here! - and to everyone else in the room, regardless of whether or not you're a morning person, thank you for coming along! I hope that you find this session interesting and worthwhile.

And I hope you'll also find, like I do, that coming to the Gathering – even at this time of day - is actually a hugely energising experience. I find simply visiting the stalls and exhibitions outside is a reminder of the sheer diversity and range of good work done by third sector organisations. And of course those exhibitions – hugely impressive though they are – represent just a fraction of the contribution you make to communities across the country. So I want to begin this morning by saying a simple but something very important "thank you".

That's something I say every year, but it's maybe especially important at the moment in time. The stories that have come out in the last fortnight about Oxfam and in some case other organisations are awful – it is absolutely right that they are thoroughly investigated; that people are held to account; and that lessons are learned and acted upon.

It's also a reminder and a warning to all charities – and indeed to all organisations - of the need to deal firmly, thoroughly and transparently with misconduct when it arises. That's why the Scottish Government last week sought assurances from the partners who do such good work with us in our international aid efforts. We will not tolerate any misconduct or human rights abuses, wherever they take place.

Emphasising that point is essential. But it's also essential that the stories of the last fortnight don't undermine or overshadow the good work that is done by tens of thousands of people in third sector organisations – not just here in Scotland but across the UK and around the world.

I see every week – in my constituency and in my travels around the country – just how much people across Scotland benefit from your dedication, expertise and compassion. And so I want to make it clear just how much your work is recognised, valued and appreciated. The theme of this year's event – "I love charity" – is certainly one which resonates with me and with millions of people across the country.

In fact, I can say in all honesty the third sector makes a positive contribution to virtually every policy priority the Scottish Government has.

Adam will speak soon about Shelter Scotland's vitally important work. Shelter are crucial members of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group which we established last autumn – providing advice on the actions needed to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation for people who need it.

Last month, we published a draft strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and that strategy recognises the vital role of the third sector in addressing this growing social issue. The deadline for comments on the strategy is the end of April, so I hope you'll all be able to feed in your views.

There are countless other examples I could provide – for example the reform of social security, or the role of our social enterprises. However I want this morning to look briefly at two other issues which in different ways are very topical – human rights, and Scotland's year of young people which is how we categorised the year.

Two days ago, SCVO became one of the founding signators of the Scotland Declaration on Human Rights. It's a document which has already been supported by more than 100 organisations across the country who already want Scotland to be "a leader, not a laggard," in human rights terms.

It's been prompted to a large extent by concerns that many of us have that Brexit could be used to weaken existing rights and protections. That concern is heightened by the deeply ambivalent attitude the current UK Government has shown towards the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights.

And so the Declaration is an initiative which the Scottish Government applauds and supports. In recent years, we have argued strongly in favour of retaining the Human Rights Act, and we have sought to embed human rights, equality and respect in everything we do.

A good example is the Social Security Bill which is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament. That seeks to put the dignity of the individual at the heart of the social security system. And indeed the bill explicitly states that social security is a human right, essential to the realisation of other human rights.

So we share SCVO's concern that Brexit could see a regression on human rights. And because of that, we see the Scottish Declaration on Human Rights as an important statement.

Because, the case for human rights can't just be made by government – often, almost by definition, it is made most powerfully and most effectively by individuals and organisations who are independent of government. In fact, you will very often be doing your job most effectively when you outline positions which are uncomfortable for the government – either at the UK level or here in Scotland.

So by raising your voice, you're playing an important part in the campaign to ensure that in the years ahead we continue to strengthen, not weaken, human rights protections in the years ahead. That's something which is essential to our shared goal of delivering a fairer, more prosperous Scotland.

There's a link here to the second issue I want to talk about – our year of young people.

One of the things we have promised to do in the current year is to strengthen children's rights. For example we are currently examining the most effective way to further embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into policy and legislation.

We're doing that, first and foremost, because I think it is the right thing to do. However it is also in some ways appropriate that we're taking these steps now, during our year of young people.

Throughout 2018 we're celebrating the achievements and potential of young people through a programme of events which has – to a very large extent – been proposed and developed by young people themselves.

The Scottish Youth Parliament has been heavily involved in that process, which is one of many reasons why it's great to see Amy on the platform this morning.

The third sector is absolutely crucial to the Scottish Government's overall aim of making Scotland the best place in the world in which to grow up. I was at an event on Friday for National Care Day, and was once again struck, by the passion and commitment of the third sector organisations who were helping care experienced people to flourish.

Celine's work with the Yard is another great example. The Yard now helps more than 1,000 families every year. Enabling disabled children to experience fun and friendship – and a sense of adventure – that might not otherwise be available to them.

And to give a third example, in recent years the Community Jobs Scotland programme has been a key way of creating job training opportunities for young people - for example people with experience of care, or people with disabilities - who often find it disproportionately difficult to enter the labour market.

In recent years, the programme has helped around 8,000 young people. And so I am delighted to confirm this morning that – subject to parliamentary approval later today - we are funding the programme with a further £6 million in the coming year. That will support approximately 700 further job training opportunities.

By doing so, it will help more young people to contribute even more to our economy and our society. It's a good example of an investment, delivered through the third sector, which will bring benefits us all.

Now I'm very aware of the different issues I've touched upon today – tackling social isolation, addressing rough sleeping, helping young people, promoting human rights – they inevitably important as all of them are, don't, and can't, describe all of the ways in which the third sector contribution makes to Scotland. But I hope they give some idea of the breadth of your contribution, and why that contribution is so deeply valued by the Scottish Government.

The simple fact is that in virtually every challenge that our country faces, the third sector has an important indeed vital part to play. That's why the Scottish Government, and indeed the Scottish Parliament more widely, sees the third sector as a crucial partner in delivering social and economic progress. It's why – although inevitably we will have constructive disagreements on occasion - we want to build an even better and stronger relationship with you. And it's why I look forward to many more years of working with you - as we seek together to create a healthier, wealthier and fairer Scotland.


Central Enquiry Unit


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