In every corner of Scotland, civil society can be found. In every community, civil society plays its vital triple role: bringing people together, campaigning to solve pressing problems, and providing services – particularly to those who are otherwise marginalised and overlooked. And from improving the nation’s health to boosting economic growth, when it comes to achieving the changes that everyone agrees are needed, civil society is essential to each and every goal.

Over the last decade, the role that civil society plays has become ever more fundamental to life in Scotland and the UK. From the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services in 2011, to the Social Renewal Advisory Board report in 2021, the central importance of a thriving third sector working in partnership with Scotland’s public and private sectors has been recognised at the highest level in Scotland. As was recognised in the latter, the Covid pandemic shone a spotlight on just how critical civil society is, with the growth of mutual aid groups, the support the sector provided to the most vulnerable citizens, and the momentous efforts of the volunteers who made the vaccine rollout a success. The current cost of living crisis has highlighted it even more starkly, as charities strive to stand between people and the worst consequences of poverty.

Yet civil society does not yet have all the tools and the environment it needs to fulfil its full potential in this challenging context. Both the Christie Commission and the Social Renewal Advisory Board identified many of the barriers hampering civil society and undermining effective collaboration across sectors and made recommendations to tackle them. Building on this, the Law Family Commission on Civil Society has come together to lay out a plan to create the conditions for civil society to thrive, so it can better fulfil its broad range of varied and vital roles, supporting economic and social wellbeing across Scotland. Achieving this ambition requires action from every sector, and leadership from government and the business community, as well as from within civil society itself.

The Commission is calling for strategic investment from independent and public sector funders in the productivity of the social sector, the data available to and about it, and in the changes needed to unlock philanthropy. This must be accompanied by a dramatic acceleration in the partnership between civil society and business, and advances in the relationship between civil society and government.

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