Brexit impact on rural third sector

The lack of research into the impact of Brexit on the third sector in Dumfries and Galloway has been highlighted as a major concern at an event during the Scottish Rural Parliament.

Calls were made for urgent investment into the potential of a hard or soft Brexit on rural funding, volunteers, employment, community planning, and resilience.

The event – Brexit: Deal or No Deal. What does it mean for the rural third sector in Scotland? – took place in Stranraer.

An outcome document highlighted that there was a “strong feeling” that the sector had not featured in the Brexit debate in Scotland.

Sessions on the topic by the Rural Parliament and Scottish Rural Action were welcomed but did not focus on third sector issues.

Those attending asked for immediate action by intermediaries (another possible phrase?) and the Scottish Government and encouraged host organisation Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway (TSDG) to take this forward.

Norma Austin Hart, TSDG chief executive officer, said: “The third sector will have a critical role to play if the result of Brexit has a negative impact. The most vulnerable are often the most severely impacted by social and economic uncertainty and the third sector are the organisations most likely to step into the gap in a crisis, creating additional demand.”

There are over 2300 third sector organisations, including 854 registered charities, in Dumfries and Galloway. Rural voluntary organisations experience the same challenges as those in urban areas: shortage of funding and volunteers and difficulties with recruitment and retention. The rural third sector also delivers services covering hidden poverty, poor public transport, an aging population and a low wage economy.

Speaker at the event Elaine Murray, leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, said: “The third sector plays an important role in supporting the economy and communities in Dumfries and Galloway therefore this session on the effect of Brexit on the third sector was very pertinent to our region.

“Despite the emphasis there has been on Brexit over the last two and half years, very little has been said about its impact on the third sector. Our discussions highlighted some very important points which need to be addressed when any final decision on Brexit is taken.”

 

Austerity cuts have already affected the amount of grant funding from public agencies to the third sector. The loss of European funding - in particular rural development programme LEADER - was of great interest to the audience and whether this shortfall would be made up by the Scottish or UK governments. The removal of the Common Agricultural Policy on the farming sector was also highlighted with the industry underpinning the local economy both by direct and indirect employment.

Norma said: “Existing public sector services are stretched and third sector support has often been cut as a result of austerity measures. For example, foodbanks currently cannot meet demand which raises questions about how the third sector would meet future demand? Will emergency support be available to assist with the delivery of services in the event of a hard Brexit?”

There was also concern that any action to respond to possible impacts could have an urban or central Scotland bias. The roles of the future South of Scotland Enterprise Agency and the Borderlands Initiative were welcomed as potential catalysts for the third sector in strategic planning across the south of Scotland and in supporting micro and social enterprises.

Other speakers at the event were: Grace Cardozo, executive managing director of Sleeping Giants; Helen Forsyth, of chief executive of Berwickshire Housing Association; and Harry Harbottle, chairman of Dumfries and Galloway Leader.