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View from the Chair: The Robertson Trust in 2016/17

Please note that The Robertson Trust has published its new Giving Strategy. This sets out the priorities we will have when awarding funds through our open grants programme. The existing application form and guidelines can still be used until July 31st. In line with our existing procedures, we will aim to assess and present all applications received by this date to our September Board meeting. In the event that we are unable to do so, your application may be held until our November meeting. In such cases a member of staff will contact you and provide any assistance required to realign your application with the new Giving Strategy. Find out all you need to know here.

In my final year as Chairman, writing this article allows me the opportunity to reflect on how life has changed since I joined the Trust in 2003. At that point we were distributing some £5M. This year our budget spend was £19M + making us the largest independent funder in Scotland. A dramatic change, indeed!

However, alongside this growth in the level of our funding, we have unfortunately seen an even higher growth in the level of inequalities faced by people and communities throughout Scotland. We are now living in a country where the gap between rich and poor has continued to grow; where working families are dependent on the growing number of food banks and where life expectancy can vary by 10 years depending on your postcode. We continue to see homeless people sleeping on the streets of our cities, increasing levels of rural poverty, family breakdown and mental health problems among our young people.

Scotland’s charities are often at the frontline in dealing with these challenges and we know that those people using their services increasingly have more complex needs. And with an ageing population, this trend is likely to continue. So where does The Robertson Trust sit in an environment where our charities face cuts and uncertainty around public funding, impacting on their ability to deliver key frontline services? There can be no doubt that very many of these organisations are in survival mode as a consequence of Government and local authority cuts. Not only is their own income much reduced, but the broader scaling down or closure of community services and facilities means that they are constantly being asked to deliver more for less.

Those supported often require more intensive or specialist support, which has huge cost implications. In addition to this, funding is often reviewed on an annual basis, all of which makes it difficult to keep skilled staff and puts huge pressure on charity Boards. We regularly see examples of these issues within the charities we support, charities which may provide a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in our society.

"As we deal with those difficult times, I reflect on the wisdom, generosity and vision of the intrepid Robertson sisters when they decided to set up the Trust."

The reality is that without the wide range of community based services delivered by third sector organisations, the cost to the public purse would be unimaginable. I believe that public bodies should recognise this enormous contribution to society both through the provision of appropriate funding support and by engaging with the third sector on key relevant strategic decisions.

During the course of 2016/17 we implemented our new Giving Strategy. This was developed in consultation with charities and stakeholders from across the land and their valuable input is reflected in our Annual Review. I very much hope that our approach will enable us to target funding and resources to those thematic and geographic areas where we can make a real difference for communities and individuals who face disadvantage. Do visit our What We Fund section where those new strands are set out clearly.

As we deal with those difficult times I often reflect on the wisdom, generosity and vision of the intrepid Robertson sisters when they decided to set up the Trust. Their aims and objectives still hold firm today. The Trust regularly salutes the sisters and though times have moved on, we hope they would approve of how the Trust has adapted to address the social challenges in today’s Scotland.

We remain determined to build good relationships with all our partners by being open to new ways of funding and to using knowledge exchange in developing evidence based policy. I believe we are making significant progress in working together, using our combined expertise and resources, to identify where we could more effectively address key gaps in provision of services.

None of this would happen without the commitment and dedication of our Trustees who as volunteers give so generously of their time. I must thank you all, new and old, for your support, encouragement and wise counsel. This year we were sad to say farewell to David Stevenson and Sandy Cumming whose wisdom and energy were inspirational. We are glad to welcome three new members Mark Batho, Lorne Crerar and Garry Coutts who I am certain will contribute just as significantly to our work. Thank you also to Kenneth Ferguson, our Director, and all our staff who have worked so hard to deliver the new Strategy. Kenneth has supervised with great efficiency the expanding staff team and I am certain that our future is secure in the midst of such exciting and difficult times.

Finally we must recognise the work of The Edrington staff whose dedication and phenomenal success over the time I have been on board, makes possible everything we do.

There is no doubt in my mind that being Chairman of The Robertson Trust is the best job in Scotland and it has been such a privilege to be part of it for so long. I believe that despite the enormous challenges we face today, we are in a strong position to tackle whatever lies ahead. I am confident that we can continue to support the charitable sector in ways which will improve the wellbeing of the people and communities across the land.

Download our full Annual Review to discover more about The Robertson Trust's work in 2016-17.