You’re never standing still in a policy role at SCVO. One minute, you’re getting to grips with charity law or the voluntary sector’s contribution to Scotland’s National Outcomes. Then you’re asked to get your head around state investment banks.

SCVO and Social Enterprise Scotland have been working together on the Scottish National Investment Bank since late 2018. We’ve tried to ensure that the value of the voluntary sector to Scotland’s economy is recognised by those working closest to the Bank and in the Bill that legislates for its creation. That’s not been easy, as we’ve seen – or at least perceived – a narrow private sector narrative surrounding the Bank for some time.  

During discussions about the Bank, the voluntary sector was often mentioned in terms of its role in shaping an ethical state investment institution. Indeed, the sector has been instrumental in securing provisions in the Bill that do just that. Still, there was no recognition or mention of the sector as a group that might benefit from the Bank’s financial support. This felt like a business bank, a bank for business-as-usual, and was symbolic of why perceptions of the voluntary sector matter.   

Both organisations were pleased that the lead Scottish Parliament committee for the Bill recognised this and focused on the issue at length during stage one of the Bill process. The Bill, which passed unanimously last week, was amended at stage three to ensure, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Bank may provide financial assistance to voluntary sector bodies. Now on the face of the Bill, we will wait to see whether this happens in practice.

The Bank will focus on low-volume, high-value investments. It will not be a substitute for other loan finance available, particularly low value. However, we wanted to ensure the Bank could lend to voluntary sector bodies (charities, social enterprises, cooperatives or another form) both now and into the future. This could be especially important as new models and partnerships are required and adopted to keep pace with an ever-growing demand for our services and support.

What’s interesting about this Bank is the focus on providing patient finance to organisations that are committed to contributing to the Bank’s missions, which will be aligned to Scottish Government policy. Those missions – which are currently work in progress – stand as the transition to a net-zero carbon economy, place-making and regeneration, and adapting to demographic change. The voluntary sector clearly plays a vital role across these areas and, as the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose states, mission-oriented state Banks require different sectors to come together.

While this has been our primary focus on the Bank, let’s not forget that the passing of the Bill is a flagship policy win for Common Weal. They’ve championed this big idea since its 2016 paper, ‘Banking for the Common Good.’ The voluntary sector has also played a key role in pushing to strengthen the environmental and equalities aspects of the Bill. Some will feel that the Bill has not gone far enough on tackling climate change. However, big wins backed by Friends of the Earth Scotland were secured, including the transition to a zero-carbon economy as a critical objective for the Bank. 

Then there’s the efforts of Close the Gap and Engender. They’ve worked closely to promote the importance of building gender equality into the design of the Bank. Their collaboration with parliamentarians has secured significant changes to the Bill, with their six key asks now included to deliver considerable policy change. I’ve certainly learned a lot from their approach, and you can read more about their achievements here.  

With the Bill passed, we look forward to ensuring that the sector has a significant role in shaping the investment activities of the Bank. An excellent place to finish is to thank Social Enterprise Scotland for their collaboration. I’d also like to thank Members of the Scottish Parliament and Jackie Baillie in particular, who brought the voluntary sector amendment to the Bill. Finally, a thanks to the Scottish Government. We’ve welcomed their collaborative approach with us and other voluntary sector bodies throughout the development of the Bill.