Aim 3: Strengthen the connection between services and the communities they serve by providing an opportunity for more local councillors to be involved in shaping local services for better integration with community planning
What has been achieved so far?
- Documentary evidence in relation to this aim is largely derived from descriptions of the establishment and, to a lesser extent, functioning of local scrutiny and engagement arrangements and production of Local Police Plans ( LPPs), Multi Member Ward Police Plans ( MMWPs) and Local Fire and Rescue Plans (LFRPs). There is also some evidence regarding the nature of and approaches to community engagement taken by the services as well as reports by a range of third sector, local authority and national bodies and organisations.
- The diversity of this evidence base relating to Aim 3 makes generalised assessment of its quality more difficult than for Aims 1 and 2. There is clearly a spectrum in terms of criteria such as methodological adequacy, analytical approach and independence, and this should be kept in mind when interpreting the evidence base. The evidence also tends to be descriptive rather than analytical, focused more on the 'what' ( i.e. what new arrangements are in place) rather than the 'so what' ( i.e. a systematic assessment of the impacts and implications of new arrangements).
- Interviewees generally echoed the findings of this documentary evidence, highlighting the formation of the appropriate structures for local stakeholder engagement as set out in the Act, with the appointment of Local Senior Officers ( SFRS) and Local Police Commanders (Police Scotland) acting as a focus for engagement with Community Planning Partnerships, formulation of Local Outcome Agreements and engagement with local stakeholders. Furthermore, the associated Local Plans were identified by some as significant achievements.
- Where discussed, local Scrutiny Committees were generally felt by interviewees to be an improvement on previous arrangements for local governance resulting in policing and Fire receiving increased attention. In terms of the nature of the scrutiny, a number of interviewees acknowledged that more councillors are now involved in the scrutiny process but argued that this did not necessarily mean that there had been an increase in quality of scrutiny.
- Access to senior officers in both services was seen by most of those interviewees commenting on this issue to have improved, although some interviewees felt it was important to note that whilst each Local Authority may have senior officer as a named contact (which is perceived as an improvement) some smaller authorities share this contact with other local authority areas.
- For SFRS, a number of approaches were identified by senior staff as being effective in facilitating local-national links, including giving SFRS board members responsibility for specific geographical areas and pursuing feedback from LSOs. The appointment of LSOs to their posts prior to reform was also felt to be helpful, as was the significant degree of autonomy that LSOs appear to have to take decisions at a local level.
- In relation to Police Scotland there were concerns expressed in relation to the early phases of reform about the perceived lack of autonomy and discretion of Local Commanders, particularly with regard to decisions taken at a national level that had significant local impacts.
- Whilst there was limited discussion of how far engagement with members of communities of place had improved (or otherwise), in terms of connecting with communities more generally, it was recognised that social media are becoming increasingly important.
- Among those who reflected on what went well in the implementation of reform, clear and effective communication in articulating the nature of the reform process was felt to be important. Where effective, it was felt this could allay potential fears - for example directly engaging with councillors to explain the rationale behind relocating a specialist resource.
- The wider context of the Christie Commission's findings and austerity was felt by some to provide important drivers for partnership working, as was the increased engagement with 'prevention' more widely across the public sector. Some made the observation that partnership working with legacy Police and Fire services was strong prior to reform and continues (focused on issues like vulnerability to harm and crime) but that some momentum was lost during the early stages of reform, particularly with Police Scotland although there is now an increasing emphasis on partnership working within the organisation along with an increasing focus on prevention. In relation to Fire, there had been a clear shift towards the prevention agenda prior to reform in some legacy services and this has been scaled up to a national level post reform.
- For some interviewees, Aim 3 of reform was viewed as having lower priority in the early stages of reform when the focus had been on Aims 1 and 2 in terms of maintaining the delivery of services and establishing structures for providing specialist expertise at a national level. Although greater focus now appears to be given to local community engagement it was also recognised by a number of interviewees that there are challenges in managing tensions between local and national priorities and issues, in particular for Police Scotland. This is also a theme identified in reports produced by HMICS.
- A further common theme related to the effect of a perceived pressure to take quick decisions in the early stages of reform on the quality of, and approach to, engagement. For example, decisions regarding the withdrawal of Police Scotland Traffic Wardens were viewed very critically by some interviewees because of the lack of consultation and engagement with local authorities about the consequences for them.
- Interviewees were generally positive about the approaches to engagement and partnership working adopted by SFRS, although some variations in the quality of LSO engagement were identified. More generally, it was felt by some that there were missed opportunities early in the reform process to use local engagement to articulate the relationship between Police and Fire reform and the broader changes to public services and community empowerment that provided the context for these developments. In particular, some interviewees felt that in the course of local engagement it would have been useful to introduce people to the scope of the opportunities for transforming the delivery of Police and Fire services that reform has created, preparing the ground for changes in service delivery in the future.
- Some suggested that the nature of local scrutiny, and the standard of engagement with Local Authorities continues to be mixed, a theme also reflected by inspectorate reports. The perceived lack of geographical nuance and specificity of context evident in the first versions of Police Scotland's MMWPs and LPPs and also in some LFRPs was highlighted as an example of what some interviewees saw as a limited approach to localism.
- In relation to policing, there were also significant concerns from some around the scope of local scrutiny committees to be able to discuss and challenge decisions taken at a national level that impact locally. The need to find an effective mechanism that allows members of local scrutiny committees to escalate issues within the Police hierarchy when these cannot be resolved locally was also seen by some interviewees to be urgently required.
- A tension was evident between apparent desires for consistency in the quality of scrutiny (and plans) but for sufficient flexibility to take into account local variations, with a sense from some interviewees that the latter has been partly lost. Related to this, the level of discretion of local Police commanders was felt by some to have reduced compared to the pre-reform period, although it is acknowledged that this may now also be changing. Some also felt that a single local Community Safety Plan, rather than separate Police and Fire plans might be more helpful in supporting partnership working. Further, some interviewees suggested that the balance between engagement and critique of Police and Fire in local scrutiny was unequal, with greater attention on Police. Building a stronger shared understanding of the new scrutiny arrangements on both sides was also identified as a potential area for improvement.
- As has been noted in relation to Aims 1 and 2, perceptions of the relationship between the maintenance of local policing and the establishment of specialist units within Police Scotland differ. Some felt that this had resulted in a reduction in resources dedicated to local policing, others saw the new model as allowing national capacity to be 'accessed' via local policing and so in this way local policing had not reduced, rather it had changed in nature.
- Relating to the wider context of partnership working and the recommendations of the Christie Commission, whilst for some interviewees financial pressures meant a greater imperative to work collaboratively, a counterview was expressed that this can also lead to retrenchment and organisations focusing on what they see as core business and less inclined to think about longer term, collaborative preventative activities.
- Overall, documentary evidence in relation to this aim for both services is disparate (and includes Inspectorate Reports; Parliamentary reports; reports from representative organisations and those funded by political parties) which means the quality is variable and the causal links between the activities of reform and intended outcomes are not fully developed.
- There is also a lack of specificity around some key themes. Engagement with diverse 'communities' is often referenced in evidencing progress towards this aim but it would be helpful to have further evidence of how the services are strengthening their connections with different types of community such as the young and the old, victims and others who come into contact with the services, and those living in remote rural areas, small towns and big cities. In relation to these and other groups, there is a lack of evidence about their interactions, experiences and relationships with the Police and Fire and Rescue services post reform.
- Overall, as is the case for aims 1 and 2, there is a need here to shift the evidence base from documenting the establishment, functioning and outputs to evidencing and understanding outcomes and impacts.
Conclusions and key lessons
- In sum, there appears good evidence for progress being made toward achieving this aim of reform in terms of descriptions of the establishment - and to a lesser extent, functioning - of local scrutiny and engagement arrangements and production of MMWPs, LPPs and LFRPs.. There is also some evidence regarding the nature of and approaches to community engagement taken by the services.
- Overall, as is the case for Aims 1 and 2, there is a need here to shift the evidence base from documenting the establishment, functioning and outputs to evidencing and understanding outcomes and impacts.
- Looking to the future, a number of interviewees identified actions that would further strengthen engagement at the local level. This includes aligning local Police and Fire plans within local administrative geographies; strengthening engagement approaches in order to feed into local plans; seeing community planning partnership arrangements strengthened in terms of their quality and consistency, and developed further in terms of their links to communities.
- In terms of key lessons, the need for early engagement and meaningful consultation over decisions that impact locally emerges as an area of fundamental importance to ensuring public confidence in the reform process and allaying fears about centralization of decision-making. Greater authenticity about the challenges of reform in terms of the difficulties and complexities of change is also important as well as clear communication around the longer term opportunities and benefits with respect to enhanced service delivery and community wellbeing.