THE new £60million Glasgow Communities Fund is a measure of the high value the Council and City Government places on our third sector.

The fund represents a scale of investment that few other local authorities in the UK come close to matching. It will provide grants for a really diverse range of city-wide and community-based voluntary organisations working to tackle the effects of poverty and inequality in our neighbourhoods.

At a time when public funds are under considerable pressure, continuing to commit that level of resource to fund non-Council services is a challenge. But we believe it’s the right thing to do.

The Communities Fund replaced an old grants fund that had become increasingly viewed as discredited in recent years. Whole sections of Glasgow’s third sector viewed the old fund as an unfair ‘closed shop’ funding less than 10% of voluntary groups across the city. The vast majority of organisations were barred from even applying. The Communities Fund has overturned that perception by now funding more than 100 organisations who have never had the chance to benefit from Council funding before.

There was something inherently unfair about a system which for too long excluded 90% of the third sector from the funds to better deliver some incredible work in our neighbourhoods. That had to change and the majority of the sector demanded that change.

As with any grants fund – such as the Big Lottery – it’s impossible to fund everyone and there were always going to be some groups that lost out. That doesn’t mean the work they’re doing isn’t important or valuable – and it’s really hard for both council officers and councillors alike to have to say no to anyone. But all the applications were judged against the same rigorous criteria, focusing on the outcomes they would deliver for communities.

Reform is never easy, can be controversial and often throws up unexpected problems. It transpired that keeping the old fund closed for so long also had another negative effect, leading to some organisations becoming overly or entirely reliant on council funds for survival. That wasn’t and could never be sustainable. A vibrant and genuinely independent third sector needs to be able to draw its financial support from a variety of sources, especially when public sector funding is becoming scarcer.

When it emerged that some city organisations in that category had not met the criteria for grant funding the SNP administration moved quickly to find an additional £4m to keep as many as possible going and give them breathing space to find a more sustainable funding model. We certainly don’t want to see organisations providing valuable services in communities, such as some Citizens Advice Bureaux, close down and we’ll work with them and with the Scottish Government to find better ways of ensuring those services continue. Glasgow’s pioneering Homelessness Alliance is one model that could point the way forward, for example.

Many councils have withdrawn altogether from funding Citizens Advice Bureaux and other voluntary bodies. In Glasgow, we’ve got no intention of doing that. The council can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for the financial sustainability of outside organisations – that defeats the whole point of there being a third sector. But we fundamentally believe Glasgow needs a thriving and dynamic voluntary sector and the Communities Fund is a mark of our commitment to that and to the power of community-led action to tackle poverty and inequality in ways that council services alone can’t reach.

lThe latest restrictions announced by the First Minister yesterday to curb the accelerating rate of Covid-19 cases in Scotland will be tough on all of us. After six months of sacrifice, of seeing friends and loved ones, our communities and businesses struggle amidst the curbs which dealing with the pandemic demands, it was the news none of us wanted. But these restrictions are entirely necessary. The figures and the warnings are stark.

Glasgow has had time to adapt to the limits imposed on household visits and gathering outdoors. There are grounds for optimism that the rules in Glasgow and across the west of Scotland are having a positive impact and I sincerely hope that when there is adequate data to measure the impact of these restrictions it will show that is indeed the case.

Throughout this crisis I have sought at all times not to be partisan or to make party political points. But it really is time for some of this city’s politicians, those who seek to promote themselves as champions of business, to step up to the plate.

Just last week some of my Scottish Government colleagues and representatives from across the trade union movement made clear that extending the Job Retention Scheme is the critical factor in preserving jobs and our economy. The restrictions now in place across the whole of the UK make that ever more so.

Hospitality, retail, tourism, construction and aviation, these, and other sectors, are on a precipice. They need furlough extended. If the UK Government goes ahead as planned and withdraws this support, tens of thousands of Scottish jobs will be lost before Christmas.

With the levers of an independent nation – or indeed with borrowing powers – Scotland would extend these schemes. As things stand, the livelihoods and futures of so many are in the hands of the UK Government.

It’s time for their colleagues in Glasgow to get their heads out of the sand, put loyalty to the side and instruct Westminster colleagues not to pull the plug. The cost of another lost generation of Glaswegians far outweighs the temporary and sectorised support our economy needs.