About this Report
This report provides an analysis of responses to the Scottish Government consultation on draft regulations and guidance associated with participation requests under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The consultation took place between 21 March 2016 and 22 June 2016 and posed 13 questions, all open in nature.
Overview of Responses
A total of 102 responses were received. The majority (60) were from public sector organisations. Organisational responses were received from local authorities, third sector organisations, community organisations, NHS, community planning partnerships, colleges, Police Scotland and other public sector bodies. The views are of those who chose to respond to this consultation and may not necessarily represent the views of a wider population.
Requirement for a statutory form
The consultation asked if a statutory form should be required in the regulations and the majority of respondents (73%) agreed. All groups responded similarly. There was broad support across respondent groups. The importance of consistency and accessibility for both community bodies and public service authorities was a common theme that emerged, particularly relevant where a request may span more than one local authority area. Also, that it would help community bodies frame requests. The benefit to public bodies was seen as making assessment of requests more straightforward and the positive impact this would have on timescales being met, resources required and for reviewing the process and impact of participation requests.
Those respondents against the requirement for a statutory form focused on the negative impact on community bodies who want to make participation requests, expressing concerns that it could provide a barrier to participation due to, for example, language or literacy barriers, and that alternative methods should be accepted. Also, there should be flexibility to develop locally tailored forms which may enable better reflection of local communities and culture, as well as support consistency between the variety of different public service organisations that can receive such requests within a Community Planning Partnership.
No requirement for a statutory form
The consultation asked if it should be possible for a community body to put in a participation request without using a form and 58% did not agree. However, some group differences were noted, with a tendency for individual, Third Sector Organisations and Community groups to agree there should be no requirement. This contrasts with their response tendencies to question 1. The importance of consistency and the benefits that a statutory form would bring was stressed. Respondents pointed towards the benefits of a consistent approach to help with gathering information, assessing the request and making decisions. A number of respondents commented that in exceptional or special circumstances the community body should be able to submit a participation request without the use of a statutory form. There was also recognition that community groups may need support to complete forms.
For those in favour of no requirement for a statutory form, A perceived benefit was the more flexible approach this would bring for community bodies, including promoting an inclusive approach and preventing unnecessary obstacles to participation. Also, it was suggested that this is a new process and flexibility may be sensible in case of, as yet, unknown issues.
What information might a statutory form include
The consultation asked what information a statutory form should include and provided an example. Although there was support for the provided example, amendments were proposed which included that the form is an opportunity for the community body to provide information about any support needs that would allow them to participate. This could include issues to do with accessibility, language support and help with understanding the process. Other suggestions included: contact details, date of submission, constitution and governance structure of the community body, knowledge and expertise within the community group, how success would be measured, community description and details on any consultation or engagement.
A concern was highlighted, however, that any additions to the form should be made carefully to avoid creating a further barrier to making a participation request.
Involvement of multiple public service authorities - timescale to respond
The consultation asked if 14 days was a reasonable amount of time for additional public service authorities to respond to an invite from the lead authority to be involved in the participation request. Fifty eight percent did not agree. However, there was a tendency for individuals, Third Sector Organisations, Community Groups to agree this was sufficient time.
The respondents suggested increases in the timescale ranging from 14 working days to 3 months. The majority of responses suggested an increase in the time to respond of between 20 and 30 days.
A variety of reasons were given in support of the need to increase the timescale for additional public service authorities to respond. This included the requirement for the decision to be made at Management Board/Council level and the time taken to arrange this, staff absence and holiday periods, if significant issues are raised and need discussed further and consistency with other legislation, e.g. Freedom of Information requests.
Promoting the use of participation requests
The consultation asked for specific ways that public service authorities should promote participation requests. A common suggestion was that the public service authority should have a designated webpage/portal to promote participation requests. There was a wide range of other promotion mechanisms suggested, for example social media, local press, community newsletters, using local organisations.
While there was widespread support for the need to promote participation requests, some respondents commented that there were risks involved, in particular noting that public service authorities' resources are already limited and increasingly stretched.
A few respondents commented that regulations were not required. Whilst public service authorities should promote the use of participation requests it should be covered in guidance rather than regulations.
Supporting the use of participation requests
The consultation asked for specific ways that that public service authorities should support participation requests. One frequent suggestion was for a single point of contact. Also that the third sector and advocacy organisations should have a role to play in the support provided to community bodies. The National Standards of Community Engagement were mentioned with the suggestion that the principles outlined in the National Standards should underpin participation request activity by the public service authority.
While the majority of respondents were positive about the need to support participation requests, some respondents commented that there were risks involved, in particular noting that this could potentially be a significant resource requirement if a public service authority was dealing simultaneously with many requests.
A few respondents commented that regulations were not required. Whilst public service authorities should support the use of participation requests it should be covered in guidance rather than regulations.
Additional support for specific communities
The consultation asked what types of communities could the regulations specify that might need additional support. A number of respondents stated that the regulations should specify groups with protected characteristics under the Equalities Act as they may well be at a disadvantage in attempting to put forward participation requests. A wide range of other communities were identified including those with language or literacy difficulties, communities in deprived areas and many others who might need additional support due to reasons of disadvantage or vulnerability.
It was highlighted, however, that there may be drawbacks to specifying particular communities. There may be a risk of inadvertently excluding vulnerable community groups not on a list or a sense that a listed type of community is stigmatised. Support should be available to all as required.
Once again, the issue was raised that additional support may be better covered through guidance and encouraging good practice, rather than through regulations.
Making the Decision
Timescale for making a decision
The consultation asked how long should a public service authority have to assess a participation request and give notice to the community participation body and was 30 days a reasonable amount of time. Fifty eight percent agreed that 30 days was a reasonable amount of time.
It was commented that the initial assessment is designed to take people to the start of a dialogue and 30 days should allow time for adequate consultation, discussion and formulation of the response from the public service authority. Some, however, did suggest that exceptions may be required.
For those who expressed a view that 30 days was not a reasonable amount of time, the general opinion was that it should be longer, with only a small number of respondents stating it should be shorter. The comments varied, but a couple of themes emerged. Firstly, that more time would be needed where decisions needed to be made by the authorities' relevant governing structures. Secondly, that more time may be needed if there were complex cases which might involve multiple public service authorities. Alternative timescales suggested included: t 30 working days; between 45 to 60 days or even tailored depending on the nature of the request..
Those suggesting a shortened timescale considered it was sufficient time and that the community participation body would want to get on with taking forward ideas and engagement as quickly as possible.
Decision notice - additional information
The consultation asked if the decision notice should include information in addition to that set out by the Act and regulations. Whilst a number of respondents had either no comment or stated that the information contained within the regulations was sufficient, a large number of respondents thought it was important that a decision notice clearly explains the reasons for refusing a request. Suggestions were also made for a number of other additions.
There was mention of the potential need for confidentiality, with concern expressed that having full details of a participation request published and available for other to see may put bodies off using them.
Outcome Improvement Process - Additional information
Proposed Outcome Improvement Process - Additional information
The consultation asked what additional information should be published by the public service authority regarding a proposed outcome improvement process. There was a widespread view that the information contained in the regulations was sufficient with a few commenting that adding further information could make the process unduly bureaucratic.
A number of suggestions for additional information, however, were made which included contact details, timescales, support available, the evaluative and monitoring processes being used and a regular update on progress.
Modified Outcome Improvement Process - Additional information
The consultation asked what additional information should be published by the public service authority regarding a modified outcome improvement process. A large number of respondents expressed the view that the information contained in the regulations was sufficient. A number of suggestions, however, were made which included the reasons for the modification, the date on which the modification took place and the timescale for the modified outcome improvement process.
Information in reports
The consultation asked what additional information the report of an outcome improvement process should contain. A large number of respondents expressed the view that the information as set out by the Act was sufficient.
However, a number of suggestions for additional information were made including lessons learnt, changes that will continue to be made as a result of the participation request and the views of the community participation body.
The consultation provided the opportunity at the end for any other comment on the draft Participation Request Regulations. Respondents used this to raise more general issues relating to participation more broadly, as well as reiterating themes and issues already covered in the specific questions. No new themes arose in relation to the proposed participation request regulations.
Email: Ian Turner