Not So Ready Scotland

Not So Ready Scotland

by Meghan Gallagher
article from Tuesday 28, April, 2020

LIKE MANY, I find myself in an unusual situation. I am working from home but I have spare time as my day-to-day job usually involves meeting people and scrutinising the work of North Lanarkshire Council. Not being able to jump in the car to see a constituent or having a mound of committee papers to read is making me restless. 

Even at the start of lockdown, I knew I wanted to help those in need. I was worried about vulnerable people throughout North Lanarkshire who were told to self-isolate and to stay indoors. I also thought about the support local community groups would require and if they would be overwhelmed with the influx of people contacting them for assistance.

When the UK Government announced their NHS Volunteering Scheme on 23rd March, I thought the Scottish Government would have followed this initiative, replicating their model. Not only was the UK Government scheme aimed at the heart of communities throughout England, it was humbling to see so many people sign up over a short period of time. However, it took Nicola Sturgeon’s Government a further week to announce something similar in Scotland, as pressure was mounting from the public as they were desperate to give back to their communities. So it was on the 30th March, “Ready Scotland” was announced.

I signed up immediately as I wanted to make sure that I was assigned to a community group which needed volunteers. I had two options during the application process: I could sign up to the British Red Cross or Volunteering Scotland. I chose Volunteering Scotland as the work would be more local and I could build on my relationship with community groups within the area I represent. I thought that it would take a week or so to be contacted and provided with job specifications and a point of contact. 

In reality, however, it took three weeks for me to receive a response and a group which needed help. 

I was one of the lucky ones. To date, people who have signed up and have been waiting nearly 4 weeks, are still waiting for a response.  

Throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, I have tried to be constructive in any criticism of the Scottish Government’s performance. We have never experienced a virus so deadly and fast spreading in modern times and all levels of Government are overwhelmed with this fight. But when people offer to help and support the Government within their local communities, they should listen and act quickly, but efficiently. My opinion is that the Scottish Government set up “Ready Scotland” as a response to the UK Government initiative without understanding the scale of the work involved or the pressures this would on our third party organisations. 

“Ready Scotland” is managed by third sector interfaces throughout each Council area, as they work closely with third party volunteering organisations and local authorities. To date, well over 50,000 people have signed up to help so it is no wonder that people working behind the scenes to link volunteers to community groups are inundated by the workload. It is also not a simple process for those working for the third sector interface, as they have the challenge of matching people’s volunteering preferences to a local group. This can take time as community groups will organise their response effort to Coronavirus differently, to suit the needs of the people they support. The irony is, whilst a large number of people are still waiting to be assigned to a community group or task, the Scottish Government is still advertising “Ready Scotland” online and on social media, encouraging more people to sign up. 

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP, contacted all registered volunteers recently to thank them for their efforts and for putting their names forward. She also states within her email that some people will be automatically deployed to help with the Coronavirus effort whereas, some will be matched to opportunities in the medium to longer term once Scotland is out of lockdown. This should have been made clear to volunteers from the beginning, as many will return to work once lockdown is over, restrictions are lifted and we return to some form of normality. This will reduce the number of people able to volunteer. 

For “Ready Scotland” to be a success, the Scottish Government needs to outline who they are looking for. They have managed this with retired nurses and carers, but with a mass of volunteers waiting to answer the call, the Scottish Government has been unable to link communities together during this crisis. They also need to make sure the third sector interface companies throughout Scotland can manage the number of applications they receive to ensure people are allocated at a faster rate. This will not only support our communities better, it will prove that Ready Scotland is fit for purpose. 

Meghan Gallacher is a Scottish Conservative & Unionist Cllr for Motherwell West in North Lanarkshire Council.

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