Scottish government report finds 'cut-throat competition' among charities

The charities studied said competition for funding made them cautious about sharing information with others

Charities are being forced into "cut-throat" competition with each other over funding and beneficiaries, a report into Scottish government funding has found.

The Evaluation of the Children, Young People & Families Early Intervention and Adult Learning & Empowering Communities Fund Baseline Report examined a Scottish government fund that combined funding for children, young people and families with funding for adult learning and community empowerment. It found that charities were struggling to collaborate in the face of limited funding streams.

It said that pressures over funding meant that many charities were facing difficulties in coping with demand for their services and are unable to engage in early intervention work or research to inform their long-term planning. 

The study, commissioned by the Scottish government, asked more than 100 charities that had won support from the £14m fund about their experiences.

Most said the fund had given them stability and had allowed them to carry out successful projects with their beneficiaries, but the report also highlighted concerns.

One unnamed third sector organisation quoted in the report said: "There is enormous tension within the sector, between organisations, because they are in an absolutely cut-throat, competitive environment.

"There are some very unpleasant dust-ups that go on between organisations."

Other charities quoted in the report said competition for funding made them cautious about sharing information with others and had made them more concerned about protecting their own interests.

One said: "It is a sad fact that we are in competition with each other, not just for funding but sometimes for families as well".

John Downie, policy director at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, told Third Sector the problem was down to the mentality of government, which he said viewed competition as better than collaboration.

"There is a competitive market place in certain parts of the sector and I don’t think we can shy away from that," but he said.

"Most funds and social care funding are organised to foster competition rather than collaboration and partnership – it’s easier to compete for it rather than combine with another organisation."

He said this meant funds were not designed to get the best use out of public money to deliver the optimum outcomes for beneficiaries.

"We’re talking about caring for people with multiple issues and one single organisation can’t deal with that so I think we need to be smarter," he said.

There were some good collaborations happening throughout the sector, he said, but that funders needed to work to encourage more.

"We saying to government that every time they put a contract together there should be an emphasis on collaboration, and if there’s a scoring mechanism, bids involving partnerships should score higher," he said.

"I’m not saying collaboration is easy, but it’s more effective for government and the third sector when they’re trying to change people’s lives."

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