Opinion: Scotland - centre of the charity universe

Nick Cater

Can you feel Planet Charity tipping a little on its axis? That's because it's all happening north of the border right now.

There is Scottish legislation on charities, trustees and investment, a bust-up over public schools versus public benefit, and no charity could register for weeks during the handover from Revenue and Customs to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, which proved canny when it made a tidy sum charging those attending its launch up to £234.

Then there is the Scottish Executive's five-year 'vision' to grow the voluntary sector - whose interest does such Soviet-style planning serve? - and concerns about full cost recovery from local authorities, which the public auditor thinks spend £220m on charities, when the real figure could be closer to £700m.

If much of that sounds familiar, surely it is only fair that the Scots share everyone else's funding and regulation problems. Meanwhile, in June, conferences aplenty will be debating issues galore, from what constitutes the right role for the third sector in a small country to the politicisation of volunteering and how to learn from worldwide examples of success.

At the head of the queue is next week's Volunteer Development Scotland's Volunteering Assembly. The only Englishman taking part - myself - will risk suggesting that Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell should not describe young people doing full-time paid work on civic tasks as volunteers, and will contend that voluntary service must take a political role to tackle causes, not only symptoms.

Next comes the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, in the news when it lost a fifth of its staff through funding problems and contract troubles. It's holding the Gathering, its annual gabfest, which will be attended by more than 4,500 people. That includes the launch of the Scottish voluntary sector manifesto, ahead of next year's elections, and something else that sounds great fun - a conference on funding entitled Show us the Money.

Scotland becomes the centre of the charity universe when the Civicus global network of civil society groups from more than 100 countries rolls into Glasgow for the first of three big annual assemblies that could - according to rumours - star Kofi Annan and Bill Clinton, but will definitely include the launch of a report into the state of Scottish civil society.

Judging by all that, Scottish civil society is doing just fine.

- Nick Cater is a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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