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First aid for the third sector

THE Scottish Government's new Third Sector Early Intervention Fund (TSEIF) was announced in June last year by the Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell.

The £20million pot of cash was created to replace a confusing array of funding schemes available to children's organisations and to help target efforts more towards helping the youngest children. It was widely welcomed.

The plan supported a growing consensus that early years help is the most effective form of intervention. As the Minister explained at the time, for every £1 spent getting vulnerable youngsters off to a good start in life, £9 can be saved that would otherwise be needed to put troubled youths back on the rails. Those aims remain paramount. But the advent of the fund has created problems that had been unforeseen by Ministers.

As we reveal today, vital decisions on funding allocations have been postponed for a month after the new fund was nearly four times over-subscribed.

More than 400 organisations put in bids totalling £73million, forcing the Big Lottery Fund Scotland – which was drafted in last December to distribute the cash on behalf of the Government – to call a halt.

In the short term, the delay has caused anxiety among charities, many of which lead an uncomfortably hand-to-mouth existence. They have warned of interruptions to services and possible job losses as their old sources of funding ended yesterday.

The Scottish Government's promised interim funding – provided it is made available promptly and efficiently – should avert an immediate crisis.

But serious challenges remain one month down the line. Given the figures, it seems the present uncertainty can only give way to certain disappointment for scores, if not hundreds, of voluntary sector groups across the country.

Those working in the sector have complained that the fund is worth less than the various schemes it replaced. What's more, the old sources of funding supported organisations not focused on early years support. It is no surprise that one of those – YouthLink, the national agency for youth work – should be the first to voice its frustration publicly about the new scheme. But it is not alone. Hundreds of groups now have to wait as Ministers spend the coming month trying to find extra cash and negotiating "strategic partnerships" to safeguard a number of key organisations and the services they provide.

It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to run a business on this basis. Third sector organisations are no different. The least they should be able to expect is prompt and clear decision-making on funding in plenty of time to plan their work for the year ahead. They should not begin the financial year filling out forms for emergency cash to tide them over to the end of the month.

The Scottish Government is right to praise the important work being delivered by Scotland's children's organisations. But it faces challenges this month if it is to retain the sector's confidence.

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Finance

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