This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the Scottish Land Fund ( SLF) 2012-16, which took place between January and April 2016. The SLF was established to promote sustainable development by providing the financial means for rural communities to acquire land and land assets. The SLF awarded 52 projects a total of £9,833,606 helping communities across 14 local authorities in Scotland to acquire a range of assets, including 83,829 acres of land.
The Scottish Government has recently announced a commitment to extend the Scottish Land Fund to 2020, with an initial commitment of £10 million for the first year. The renewed fund more than triples the per annum resource commitment, and extends the fund to cover the whole of Scotland, not just rural areas.
In such a context the evaluation aimed both to develop a better understanding of the impact that SLF funding had on the sustainable development of its beneficiaries through community ownership, and to understand how the fund can achieve greater impact in 2016-20.
The research approach comprised the use of a background literature review, analysis of case data, and semi-structured interviews with three stakeholder groups: key Scottish Land Fund delivery partners, community land sector representatives, and beneficiaries of the fund. In total, 24 individuals participated in interviews, including a representative sample of seven SLF beneficiaries. Data collection for this evaluation was conducted between January and the end of March 2016.
The evaluation has a number of findings in relation to three areas: the suitability of SLF funding conditions in the period 2012-16, the impact of community ownership on sustainable development, and the implications of the extension of the fund into urban areas. The second aim of this evaluation was to help improve the impact of SLF 2016-20. To this regard, eight recommendations are made throughout the report, each drawing from the findings reported here.
The suitability of SLF 2012-16 funding conditions
The evaluation found a very high degree of satisfaction with the design of the fund from all stakeholder groups, with particular praise directed to the quality of case officer and funding officer support, and the flexibility with which applications could advance through the funding process.
However, there was a disparity in outcomes evident between communities within the operational area of Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE), and communities in the rest of Scotland. This was apparent in the availability of additional financial support throughout the application process from HIE to communities in its areas, and in the continuity of a supportive relationship between HIE and these communities following the SLF funding process.
There was also disagreement over the value of the revenue funding component between SLF delivery partners. Beneficiaries themselves sided with delivery partners in seeing revenue funding as an integral component of the SLF funding package and essential in achieving SLF outcomes. The requirement for revenue funding to be used by the end of the SLF restricted the revenue funding available to communities applying in years three and four (2014-16) to less than two years, resulting in a significant inequality between early and late applicants.
The impact of community ownership on sustainable development
The outcomes of community ownership in the seven cases analysed were evident on three levels, and occurred in a broadly sequential process. These are described in the report as immediate, intermediate and long-term outcomes.
Immediate outcomes comprised the more tangible psychological benefits and changes in outlook brought about by ownership. These fed into a set of intermediate outcomes, whereby the post-acquisition development process was facilitated by ownership itself, and by these immediate outcomes. Finally, these intermediate outcomes enabled the achievement of a set of long-term outcomes, including increased revenue streams and economic self-sufficiency, and achieving a pro-active and entrepreneurial form of community resilience through entrepreneurialism. It is important to note that the revenue funding component was a key facilitator of both intermediate and long-term outcomes by building community confidence and capacity, bringing specialist professional skills to complex projects, and improving service delivery and project management functions.
The challenges presented by the move into urban areas
Urban applications are likely to be high value and increase demand on the SLF considerably in the long-term. This means that the new SLF may face competition between applications from highly diverse projects, with different implications for value for money. Clarity and transparency is needed in how decisions are reached when judging different types of urban and rural applications against one another. One way to broach this is to produce clear guidelines - perhaps in collaboration with the new Committee - against which all projects are to be judged, and ensure these form the basis of decision making in Committee meetings.
The extension of the SLF to urban communities may also bring some unanticipated challenges. Urban areas carry greater potential for private sector displacement, and it is unclear if a shared interpretation of how this affects State Aid has been reached. There should also be oversight to ensure that SLF funding is not used by local authorities as a means to avoid making discounts to market value in transferring assets to communities.
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