Anger As Youth Volunteers Lose Out In £5m Cut To Project Funds

A national volunteering programme for young Scots modelled on a US scheme created by Bill Clinton and lauded by Prime Minister Gordon Brown has had its funding axed by the Scottish Government.

Project Scotland, which had annual support of £6.5m a year and flagship status under the old Scottish Executive, is now to receive just £1.4m. Despite a crisis meeting yesterday with Finance Secretary John Swinney, Project Scotland appears to have been unable to persuade him to reverse the decision.

As opposition politicians expressed outrage, Julia Ogilvy, founder and chairwoman of the charity, insisted the scheme would survive and continue, despite the setback.

She said: “The government will be continuing to fund us, but in a much smaller way. They will be giving us £1.4m of organisational funding for the next year and we are in negotiation to extend that. We will take on more volunteers next year, but only 420 – a big cut from the 1500 young people we hoped to work with.”

The charity posted a message to volunteers on its website after learning the extent of cuts it might be facing, reassuring young people already involved their placements would continue, but warning no new volunteers could be taken on after April without additional funding.

The Scottish Government said it intended to direct funding towards a wider range of organisations and promote volunteering to more diverse groups. A spokesman said the £1.4m funding would ensure all current commitments to young people seeking placements under Project Scotland’s current programme could be fulfilled.

He added: “We appreciate the benefits Project Scotland has generated in raising the profile of volunteering among young people and the opportunities it has offered. However, we have decided our approach should be to facilitate volunteering opportunities for as many people as possible, of all ages and backgrounds, using a wide range of providers.”

Former first minister Jack McConnell said the decision was strange. “If the SNP Government go ahead with their plans to withdraw funding from Project Scotland, that would be a very backward and tragic decision,” he said last night.

Mr McConnell said the scheme had been inspired by former US president Bill Clinton’s Americorps initiative, supported and continued by President George W Bush. “I always hoped Project Scotland would have similar cross-party support. To throw it away at a time when the rest of the UK are hoping and wishing they could copy it seems to me to be very strange indeed.

“There has been no review or evidence that might imply it is a failure, so this decision is either based on a lack of knowledge or purely on political bias. I hope we will gain cross-party support to persuade the new ministerial team to change their minds.” The programme encourages young people aged 16 to 25 to take up full-time voluntary work in the community on placements, usually for a minimum of three months.

Opportunities are varied, involving anything from undertaking conservation projects, to supporting disadvantaged people, to getting involved in sports, arts or new media projects.

A newly released economic impact study by consultants Roger Tym and Partners suggests Project Scotland achieves considerable success through savings young volunteers generate for the government and the voluntary sector. The study says Project Scotland saves £1.47m a year by taking young people off benefits, adds value to voluntary organisations to the tune of £8.7m a year and boosts the average starting salaries of young people who go on to employment by £4000 a year.

However, some in the voluntary sector suggest, at a total cost of £16.9m since it was launched, that the 2000 young volunteers have come at a high price.