6 The likelihood of Hubs continuing
6.1 This chapter discusses the potential for Hubs to continue beyond 31st March 2012, the end of the current funding period. It focuses on three issues:
- interest among Hub members to continue their Hub
- the ways in which Hubs could be developed to increase benefits to local authorities
- the factors which may need to be addressed if Hubs were to continue.
Interest in Hubs continuing
6.2 There was a great deal of appetite among Hub members to continue beyond 31st March 2012. There was a feeling that much of the work of Hubs still had to be completed:
- they were still working towards their desired outcomes
- some Hubs were only just beginning to get the full benefit of the Hub in terms of sharing best practice
- they had plans to extend the membership of the Hub to include external organisations (see below for more details).
6.3 Furthermore, there was a perception that, as 'buy in' to the housing options approach increased, and local authorities continued to develop their approaches, members would benefit from continued sharing of best practice and joint learning:
…it would be particularly helpful to us because of the stage we're at. We're in the process of developing our plans for the housing options approach, [and] we will be implementing the pilot this year, so [we would like] to continue to have the support of the Hubs as this is a critical time for us.
(Head of Service).
Developing the current Hubs
6.4 Hubs are likely to continue in some form, at least in the short term, beyond 31st March 2012. Hub members identified two ways that the process could be developed to provide greater benefits for members:
- engaging external organisations in the Hubs process
- increasing sharing between Hubs.
Engaging external organisations in the Hubs process
6.5 As described in Chapter 3, while three Hubs had invited other external organisations to join their Hub, all Hubs had ambitions to extend their membership in the future (to include, for example, Registered Social Landlords, private landlords and third sector agencies).
6.6 Hub members were in agreement that building partnerships with these organisations was crucial to delivering effective housing options services, by increasing the 'menu' of available options to clients in a local authority. While a number of local authorities had developed partnerships with external organisations at a local level, as part of the development of their own housing options approach, the Hub was seen as a potential platform in which to involve external organisations in the homelessness prevention agenda.
Increasing sharing between Hubs
6.7 The other potential way that Hubs could be developed would be to increase sharing between Hubs. As mentioned in Chapter 4, there was support for more opportunities to learn about activities that were being carried out in other Hubs. While the Scottish Government made efforts to facilitate sharing between Hubs, by creating the Communities of Practice website, the website was not widely used. Information sharing between Hubs was restricted largely to the national seminar event in August 2011 and attendance by Scottish Government representatives at a number of Hub meetings.
6.8 Hub members were keen for more regular and active sharing of information and experiences across Hubs. They felt this would benefit Hub members in the following ways:
- increasing the pool of best practice from which local authorities could learn
- developing contacts and networks for learning in other areas, particularly with local authorities who were facing similar challenges
- helping to generate ideas, particularly in relation to action plan development
- increasing the benefit for local authorities further on the development of housing options by allowing them to learn from other advanced local authorities.
6.9 While recognising that ways of engaging between different Hubs were more problematic due to geography and cost, Hub members had a number of ideas about how information sharing across Hubs could be improved:
- holding more regular national meetings, which bring together local authorities from across the five Hubs
- making the minutes from each Hub meeting available to other Hubs
- having an update on what other Hubs are doing as a standard agenda item at each Hub meeting. This could be assisted by information provided by the Scottish Government. One suggestion was for a Scottish Government representative to attend meetings and provide an update (as had been done on number of occasions). Alternatively, these updates could be provided via a Hubs newsletter.
Factors which may impact on Hubs continuing
6.10 As noted, there was appetite among Hub members for Hubs to continue. However, it was evident that two issues would need to be addressed for this to be considered. These were:
- the availability of funding
- Hubs maintaining a clear purpose.
Availability of funding
6.11 Hub members wanted more clarity from the Scottish Government about the likelihood of funding being available to support the work of their Hub. Members felt that some level of funding was crucial to the continuation of their Hub. This was for three reasons.
6.12 First, as discussed in Chapter 4, funding was essential to one Hub to enable them to meet regularly. Without the availability of some funding, members did not believe they would be able to pay for travel from their own local authority's budget.
6.13 Second, given that the availability of some form of administrative support was seen as being very helpful, members felt that it was important to make some funding available for this purpose. Without this assistance, the responsibility for administration of the group would be placed back onto 'leads' and/or other Hub members.
6.14 Third, some Hub members felt that it was important for the Scottish Government to make some money available to fund Hub based ideas and activities. These members felt that the focus, and some of the benefits, of the Hub approach would be lost if they could not fund joint initiatives.
I think it will still exist as long as the government supports it. You know, it is one of those things when you got a goal in mind, you've got your funding, you've got your things you're working to and that's a driving force if that was to go, that might be different.
6.15 Some Hub members said that their Hub would continue indefinitely, without any additional financial support. However, they did recognise that local authorities would have to incur the costs of the management and administration of the Hub. As a result, it was likely that Hubs would have to meet less often.
Maintaining a clear purpose
6.16 As noted in Chapter 5, one of the key success factors of Hubs was setting clear aims for the group, which were ultimately framed by the need for local authorities to meet the 2012 Target. While Hubs have a reason to continue in the short-term - they are still working towards achieving their desired outcomes and carrying out various projects (notably, activities to mitigate the impact of changes to housing benefit) - some Hub members had doubts as to whether there would be reason to continue in the longer term, when all the desired outcomes of the Hub and the 2012 Target had been met.
6.17 Therefore, if Hubs are going to continue, their purpose and aims would need to be restated. This may include their importance to the ongoing development of the housing options approach in all Scottish local authorities.