A new era for Scottish policy or business as usual?

Posted: 01 May 2023, in News

The election of a new First Minister and Cabinet always gives governments an opportunity to examine, change or refresh policy priorities. 

In turn it allows those of us working in social enterprise, the third sector and business to look at our own priorities and how we might better engage with key decision-makers.  

In December we arranged a visit for the then Scottish Government Health Minister, Humza Yousaf, to a local social enterprise in Govan, in his capacity as MSP for Glasgow Pollock. 

It’s fair to say that it was a positive and mutually beneficial visit, allowing the now First Minister to learn first-hand about the practical challenges facing local social enterprises.  

Equality, opportunity, community: New leadership – A fresh start” is a statement of priorities by the new First Minister and we’re pleased to see commitments to social enterprise, as well as firm commitments to building a much-needed wellbeing economy.  

The introduction pledges up-front “a green wellbeing economy” to “ensure equality of opportunity for all – reaffirming our commitment to embedding equality, inclusion and human rights into everything we do.” 

There are three key Missions to be achieved by 2026, underpinned by the existing, but soon to be updated, National Performance Framework.  

Namely these are: Equality (Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm, including the cost of living), Opportunity (A fair, green and growing economy, including business and net zero) and Community (Prioritising public services like the NHS, housing and transport). 

There are of course numerous statements about the additional powers – and therefore actions – that could be taken with independence or further devolution, in these particular policy areas. 

Each Cabinet Secretary explains their priorities in each policy area, such as Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, who pledges to have “Used our tax powers to deliver the most progressive tax system in the UK.” 

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, Neil Gray MSP, says: 

“As we create a wellbeing economy, we will work closely with the private sector, the public sector – locally, nationally and UK wide – and we will engage directly with communities and partners in the third sector.” 

There’s a pledge to set out the case for the further powers to deliver a wellbeing economy, including tax, welfare and regulatory powers. Plus a commitment to the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, improved business support and a better relationship with business with a “New Deal”. 

The Cabinet Secretary responsible for social enterprise and the third sector is now Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice. 

She commits to a partnership approach: “The Scottish Government cannot create a more just society on its own. I stand ready to work in partnership with Local Government, communities, businesses, social enterprises and third sector organisations who will help us build a more equal and just society; it takes all of us to build a fairer Scotland.” 

The Cabinet Secretary places heavy emphasis on ending generational cycles of poverty and child poverty, as well as driving forward more social housing (including the unique challenges of rural and remote areas) and continuing to develop a social security payments system based on “dignity, fairness and respect”. 

It also includes a pledge to multi-year funding deals in the third sector and to “support our thriving social enterprise economy.” 

There’s a lot for us to support, particularly the strong emphasis on building a wellbeing economy. But, as always, the key is not just in stating policy intentions but in policy delivery and implementation. 

We do face a real challenge, when reviewing past legislation and policy initiatives, that the daily reality in our local communities doesn’t always reflect actual policy intentions. 

We need to find new ways to break down barriers and engage each other, take human needs and behaviours into account, effectively monitor policy delivery and hold to account those implementing policies on the ground.  

This means working across sectors in a genuine, deep spirit of partnership, to build the thriving economy and fairer society that we all want to see in Scotland.   

Duncan Thorp, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Social Enterprise Scotland