THE third sector submitted responses to the latest element of the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee’s enquiry into preventative spend last week and pushed the government to put its money where its mouth is in the upcoming draft budget.
The committee is set to use the evidence it has gathered to inform its scrutiny of the budget and ensure that a preventative approach is at the heart of spending over the next four years.
Knowing this, John Swinney is likely to ensure that it is a major theme in his budget announcement. However, the devil, as always, is in the detail. A focus on prevention means more than the creation of a big fund to support community groups and councils working to support vulnerable people in their homes. It involves a complete overhaul of our health and social care system and a change in empahsis for staff working in health and social care settings. And whether the government has the stomach for that is yet to be seen.
The role of community and voluntary organisations is to continue to create excellent services and more than ever before to demonstrate their value to the public purse.
This is a lot of pressure to put on a sector which may be growing in professionalism but of which 65 per cent of bodies still have an income of less than £25,000.
Youth groups, befriending services, mentoring organisations, sports clubs and support groups for vulnerable people have all been making a contribution to society since they came into existence, but how can you prove that involvement in football has turned an errant teenager away from a life of crime?
To some extent this may have to be taken on faith, mixed in with a pinch of common sense. Take a child struggling to cope with the impact of a broken family and struggling at school and help them find something they are good at, that gives them a sense of belonging, and wait for the outcome.
However, in a world of ever decreasing public spending power, councils, health boards and central government are unsurprisingly reluctant to take a leap in the dark with their cash – that shadowy promise of dramatic savings and improved public health could turn out to be disappointingly unsubstantial.
Unfortunately, the less than sexy answer is to provide funding to help organisations prove their worth. This doesn’t have to be done on an individual basis however – who needs hundreds of social return on investment reports on different befriending services? What it does need is a coherent framework for measuring the social impact of preventive approaches involving public, private and third sector partners.