The evaluation has made a number of important findings across all three of its research questions.
How suitable were the conditions and support attached to SLF funding?
Interview participants were all very positive about the design and delivery of the SLF, with particular praise being given to the flexibility of the application process. The applications process was compared favourably to other funds which communities had applied for and attained.
Two areas emerged as significant problems with the design of the SLF. The disparity of pre-acquisition funding between HIE and rest of Scotland communities was highlighted as a significant inequity, mitigated only by rest of Scotland projects tending to be more straightforward in pre-acquisition technical support needs. HIE communities could also expect their relationship with HIE to continue following receipt of SLF funds, with some communities passing into account management with HIE. Communities in the rest of Scotland lack such a single agency which can provide support in the long-term, and the relationship with HIE was terminated following submission of their SLF application. Risk has not been a significant issue for community ownership, with no major failures occurring so far, however the lack of access to an equivalent agency such as HIE means that communities may be vulnerable if difficulties are encountered following asset acquisition.
There was also a significant divergence between the Committee and the main delivery partners in the value attached to revenue funding, with communities themselves siding with the delivery partners in seeing revenue funding as an integral component of the overall funding and essential in achieving SLF outcomes.
How have beneficiaries used SLF funding to bring about sustainable development through community land ownership?
The SLF was crucial to community ownership over the period 2012-16, supporting the acquisition of 83,829 acres across 52 projects and disbursing a total of £9,833,606. The outcomes of community ownership occurred in a sequential process described in the logic model (presented in Figure 3). In the short term, the main benefit of ownership was the ability to take a long-term and strategic approach to development which was better linked to local concerns and harnessed local assets. This was buoyed in all cases by an increased sense of community energy and momentum released upon ownership, and a greater sense of confidence amongst the community. These immediate outcomes then fed into a set of intermediate outcomes: a better ability to leverage external funding for development, and a greater capacity for strategic planning for sustainable development. Finally, these intermediate outcomes enabled the progression to more tangible long-term outcomes including bringing new revenue streams to the community and lowering grant dependence, increasing the financial viability of community bodies and improving access to finance, and increasing community resilience through enabling pro-active responses to local opportunities.
This sequential process was accelerated most notably by the presence of the development worker in building community capacity and confidence, increasing professionalism and helping to secure funding for development projects. Conversely, short funding cycles and the expiration of funded posts tended to impede communities' progress towards long-term outcomes by redirecting energy towards securing further funding. The lengthy lead-in times observed between receipt of acquisition and development funding also contributed in some cases to delays in the transition between intermediate and long-term outcomes.
What additional challenges might the move of the SLF 2016-20 into urban areas present?
The changes made to SLF 2016-20 respond appropriately to the deficits of the SLF 2012-16. The extension of revenue funding from two to three years in 2016-20 is appropriate to suit the more complex projects across housing, woodlands and estates, which required more significant development work to be carried out before the asset became operational. The provision of pre-acquisition support internally through the SLF of up to £30,000 also rectifies the low value of pre-acquisition support available to rest of Scotland communities. Nevertheless an inequality still remains as HIE communities will still be able to draw on HIE's internal resources in addition to this, and will likely continue to leverage more in the pre-acquisition stages.
The extension of the SLF into urban areas introduces significant uncertainty which makes it difficult to predict what the implications may be for the SLF 2016-20. The new legislative powers outlined under the Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015 provide urban communities with more powers, which may see urban demand increase in the later years of the fund. Urban applications are likely to be high value, and will potentially increase the competition of the SLF in later years. If this is the case, clarity and transparency will be required for how value for money will be considered when judging 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 within Committee meetings.
The extension of the fund to urban areas may also present some unanticipated challenges. It is possible that different interpretations between delivery partners of State Aid, which stalled many applications in 2014, will be raised once again in relation to urban areas which carry greater potential for displacement. More effort should be committed to finding a mutually acceptable joint position on State Aid in relation to the SLF 2016-20. 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.
Email: Clare Magill, firstname.lastname@example.org