Chapter 8: Conclusions and the way forward
This review of publicly-funded advice services in Scotland provides an overview of some of the key literature on advice provision currently available on Type I and II advice. The literature available largely related to money, welfare and consumer advice. The review has considered a large number of documents relating to publicly-funded advice provision in Scotland, and in combination with the data gathered through our survey, interviews and the stakeholder event, the picture emerging is consistent in terms of two key messages:
demand for advice is growing, and will continue to
grow as the impacts of changes to welfare reform take effect; and,
2. Funding is becoming more limited, and is likely to be cut further.
This review takes place at a time of significant change to public services, with the environment within which publicly-funded advice services are being delivered shifting considerably in recent years.
The publicly-funded advice sector is broad in its scope and a wide range of public policy issues provide context for its work. The new powers over consumer and social security, in particular, will be of significance to the advice sector. However, other policy areas, including changes to welfare reform, the prevention and early intervention agenda, and the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, will influence and contribute to the way in which advice services will be funded and delivered in future. There is significant evidence that actions coming out of these legislative changes and commitments have increased, and will continue to increase the demand for advice services, and multiply the types of issues people are presenting to services with. Whilst significant funding already goes into advice provision, we heard from advice providers that the external funding available to them to deliver advice services has been reducing in recent years and competition for the funding has increased. Further reductions are expected in coming years. There is evidence that service providers are already examining the ways in which they can work to address this where feasible. However, the challenges affecting the advice sector are considerable, and will require strategic funding and collaboration to enable them to be addressed.
Demand for advice
This review found evidence of two key drivers for demand for advice services - key life events, or changed personal circumstances, and changes to state support. A point of crisis or a significant change in people's personal circumstances drives people to seek advice. The numbers of people finding themselves in this situation, whilst not quantified in the literature, is evidenced to be growing directly as a result of changes to welfare reform, and the rise in demand is expected to increase further. Balancing this growth in demand with cuts to funding across the sector is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector currently.
Whilst the literature is clear in relation to demand and its certainty of this increasing, it is less clear in terms of quantifying and describing the range of need related to advice, and this seems to be a gap. Whilst separating out the need for publicly-funded advice from need for other advice provision would be an impossible task, given the interlinked nature of the advice sector, better understanding of need would enable more strategic decisions relating to funding to be made in future. To bridge this gap, the literature calls for policy makers to give greater consideration to potential advice needs resulting from policy changes at the policy development stage. Unmet need is also highlighted as requiring better targeting by providers, however, more work needs to be undertaken to understand the extent of this need.
How advice is delivered currently
Advices services are currently structured in three key ways – client group-specific services, single issue services and community based services. Each of these has benefits that are clearly articulated. The literature suggests that single issue advice is rarely sought in isolation, with reports noting that people frequently present with multiple issues, and services tend to offer support across a number of areas of advice. There is an overarching emphasis on a person-centred approach to delivery among many advice providers, and the benefits of this approach to service users are frequently highlighted.
Geographical location of advice services
The range of publicly-funded advice providers examined during the review indicates a mix of organisations that have a specific geographical (and usually local) focus and others which have a national remit. Many of these organisations receive funding from a mix of public and other sources. Generally, user data is measured inconsistently across providers, meaning that full understanding of the geographical reach (as opposed to location) of these services, and isolating out which part of this is publicly-funded is not currently possible. Understanding both the geographical coverage and reach better will be important to inform more strategic funding decisions in future.
Advice providers deliver advice through a range of channels currently, usually through face-to-face, telephone, email and written, and web-based channels. Remote channels are reported to be increasingly commonly used to deliver advice, partly in response to funding cuts requiring more cost-efficient ways of delivering services. The literature indicates that channel preference and selection usually depends on personal preference, but is also influenced by the first advice provider that a person comes into contact with, and the first channel of support that that person is offered. Visibility of advice services is reported to be low, and so selection can be very random as a result.
The importance of face-to-face support is emphasised by the literature and responses to the survey carried out as part of this research. Both recognise that the most vulnerable clients benefit most from face-to-face support. However, the literature indicates that more people use face-to-face support than necessarily need it (or show a preference for it). There is potential for more advice clients to be encouraged to use other channels of advice, with additional signposting and support, thereby enabling scarce resources to be saved for face-to-face support for the most vulnerable clients. Advice provision using digital channels is becoming more common but this is certainly an area of potential growth.
Advice is being delivered across a range of settings. Office and shop-based advice still dominates, with outreach also common. The literature does not show preference for one setting over others, but instead emphasises the need for advice to be located in settings which remove access barriers and enable advice providers to address unmet need.
The literature highlights the benefits of co-location of advice services with other services, with particularly strong examples being cited of advice services located in health settings, but also other settings such as libraries. The literature endorses more embedding of advice services in other settings in future, and recognises work going on to develop this. However, it also recognises the challenges in ensuring that staff are geared up to take on these additional challenges.
Partnership working and collaboration
The policy context section of this report highlights the emphasis that the public sector reform agenda places on collaboration and integration between public organisations. The literature examined confirms the importance of this to advice service delivery, and gives examples of good practice. However, it also recognises the inherent challenges in collaboration and some of the obstacles to this created by a competitive funding environment. Additionally, the literature highlights the opportunities for funders to collaborate in a way that encourages collaboration in service delivery and minimises unnecessary bureaucracy related to funding application processes.
Ensuring high quality advice
The importance of providing consistently high quality advice is recognised in the literature. The evidence examined suggests a willingness amongst providers to use the Scottish National Standards for Advice and Information Providers, and other forms of accreditation, some highlight lack of resource as a barrier to implementing these.
Strategic funding decisions
The literature and feedback from providers through primary research emphasise the need for intelligent, strategic and longer-term funding decisions. They advocate for an evidence-based and outcomes-focused approach to funding advice services, enabling high quality demand-led provision to be funded and duplication to be avoided.
Recommendations from the literature
The following set of recommendations summarise key recommendations identified in the literature and in consultation with advice providers. These recommendations address these key points outlined in the previous section. The recommendations are grouped by recommendations for funders, advice providers, and policy makers.
Recommendations for Policy Makers:
Recommendation 1: Advice needs to be considered at policy development stage in line with practice contained within the Funders' Framework.
Recommendation 2: Policy makers to ensure clarity on statutory obligations, and opportunities for considering new ways of meeting these obligations
Recommendation 3: Policy makers to ensure evidence-based policy decisions.
Recommendation 4: Improved understanding of need related to advice provision to inform policy development.
Recommendation 5: Policy makers to focus on prevention and early intervention measures.
Recommendations for Public Funders:
Recommendation 6: Better understanding of demand to inform future funding decisions.
Recommendation 7: Joined-up decision making to avoid duplication and improve identification of opportunities for collaboration.
Recommendation 8: Funding decisions to focus more on early intervention.
Recommendation 9: Funding decisions to focus more on prevention by supporting interventions which develop capabilities and address areas of low skill.
Recommendation 10: Funders to pro-actively encourage collaboration between organisations, and ensure that the funding environment does not act as an inhibitor to this.
Recommendation 11: Funders to examine funding application and monitoring processes to enable a reduction in the bureaucratic burden associated with multiple reporting arrangements.
Recommendation 12: Funders to work towards achieving more consistent measurement of outcomes using common indicators to enable measurement across service providers
Recommendation 13: Funders to ensure consistent application of Funders' Framework.
Recommendation 14: Funders to ensure outcomes-focused grant agreements become the norm.
Recommendation 15: Funders to continue to gather evidence of good practice that can inform future funding decisions and can be shared across the advice sector.
Recommendation 16: Funders to continue to encourage advice interventions that are embedded across sectors ( e.g. involving the Third Sector and the NHS).
Recommendations for Advice Providers:
Recommendation 17: Providers to improved targeting to address unmet need
Recommendation 18: Providers to continually review channels of delivery to ensure best use of resources, for example ensuring that resources going into face-to-face support are reserved for clients who can benefit most from this type of support.
Recommendation 19: Providers to continue to develop digital channels of advice provision.
Recommendation 20: Providers to collaborate effectively with other advice providers, and co-locate advice services in other settings where appropriate.
Recommendation 21: Providers to ensure greater sharing of lessons learned around successful approaches (and what does not work).
Recommendation 22: Providers to improve visibility of services through improved marketing and awareness raising.
Recommendation 23: Providers to continue to develop and improve referrals between services.
Recommendation 24: Providers to ensure provision of high quality advice through working towards advice standards.
Recommendation 25: Providers to ensure improved collection of outcomes data to demonstrate impact, and ensure that data can be disaggregated effectively to provide detailed understanding of impact on different client groups.