By Katrine Bussey
Public services in Scotland could be improved by giving the voluntary sector a greater role, a think tank will say today.
Reform Scotland is calling for a radical rethink of the role the voluntary sector plays in many parts of community life.
Research director Alison Payne said Scotland had more than 45,000 voluntary organisations, who together employ 5 per cent of the workforce and have a combined annual turnover of £4.1billion.
The independent think tank has now launched a consultation paper, calling for a wide-ranging debate on how best to extend this sector. It suggested opening up areas such as health and education could lead to improved standards.
Reform Scotland argue: "In areas such as health and education, giving people much greater control over the services they receive and choice from a wider range of providers is the key to higher standards.
"By ending public-sector monopolies in the provision of such services and creating a level playing field, voluntary sector organisations would have a much greater opportunity to deliver services."
The think tank also suggested that giving Holyrood greater financial powers could benefit the voluntary sector.
It argued that if the Scottish Government could extend tax relief to encourage donations to charities, this could help voluntary organisations increase their funding from non-government sources.
Ms Payne spoke about the important role the sector, which ranges from large charities to small community groups, played in society. She said: "We need a shift in power from government to the institutions of civil society and, in particular, an increase in the role of the voluntary sector in Scotland."
Children\’s charity Barnardo\’s Scotland provides social care services and health services for children in 28 of the country\’s 32 local authorities. It also working with some local areas to provide youth employment and justice services.
Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo\’s Scotland, said: "The support we get from donors and volunteers across Scotland means we can be innovative and try new approaches. It is this ability to show the outcomes of everything we do and to develop new solutions for old problems that has made government at all levels increasingly keen to work with organisations like ours.
"However, to do this effectively we need to be seen as an equal partner, involved early in the planning process and delivering services to long-term contracts, rather than one or two-year funding packages."
The Reform report was welcomed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations chief executive Martin Sime, who said the work of voluntary organisations is key to economic recovery.
"Reform Scotland is right to highlight the crucial role that charities and voluntary organisations play in communities across the country and in providing efficient and effective public services," said Mr Sime.
"This election year is the perfect opportunity for a broader debate on the role of voluntary organisations in doing things differently when it comes to delivering public services."