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Public Audit Committee

Post-legislative scrutiny on Part 2 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015

Letter from the Convener to Convener of Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 9 February 2022.

Dear Ariane,

Community empowerment: Covid-19 update

At its meeting on 25 November 2021, the Public Audit Committee took evidence from a range of witnesses representing the third sector, alongside the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) in a roundtable format, on the joint AGS and Accounts Commission Community empowerment: Covid-19 update, which was published in October 2021.

The Committee understands that the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee (LGHPC) has agreed to undertake post-legislative scrutiny on Part 2 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the Act). As you will be aware, Part 2 of the Act concerns community planning and the obligations on local authorities to work with other specified bodies to deliver services and improve outcomes.

The Public Audit Committee welcomes your Committee’s planned work in this area. To help inform your scrutiny, the Committee wishes to set out some of the key issues it heard during its consideration of the Community empowerment: Covid-19 update.

During the roundtable evidence session, the Committee heard about the good work that has taken place in local communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Witnesses explained that small community organisations were able to respond quickly to the regularly changing situation. This was largely because funders were willing to trust these organisations to allocate the money to best meet the needs of their communities. Indeed, trust, parity of esteem and mutual respect between different partners were all cited as positive new ways of working that have emerged during the pandemic.

A number of issues were raised however, including concerns that it has taken a global pandemic for third sector organisations to be treated as an equal partner in the planning and delivery of services. Short-term funding arrangements in place for community organisations, and the risks this approach presents to the delivery of Scotland’s national outcomes were also raised with the Committee.

Concerns were also expressed with regard to the extent to which national bodies are meeting their obligations under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Indeed, we heard evidence of local government working with the community empowerment agenda, but some noted scepticism that the national health service, enterprise and skills agencies and the rest of the public sector were not sufficiently engaged in this work.

The Committee therefore agreed to write to the Director-General Communities to seek their views on the concerns raised, and to establish what work the Scottish Government was undertaking to address them. A response has now been received.

Follow up correspondence was also received after the Committee meeting in November from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Scotland's Regeneration Forum who were both represented at the roundtable evidence session.

Based on the information gathered during the roundtable evidence session as well as the correspondence received as abovementioned, the LGHPC may wish to consider the following areas as part of its scrutiny of the Act—

• The extent to which local authorities are working effectively with their community planning partners, including third sector organisations and communities across Scotland to plan and deliver services.

• The extent to which the Scottish Government’s Covid Recovery Strategy has helped to facilitate partnership working with the third sector and communities in response to the pandemic.

• The risks associated with short-term funding arrangements to community organisations and the effectiveness of the Empowering Communities Programme, which provides support for these organisations through multi-year funds.

• The outcome of the Scottish Government’s Supporting Communities Fund evaluation, expected to be published in early 2022, and how this will inform the future design of funding delivered through the Empowering Communities Programme.

• Further information on the commitment made by the Scottish Government in its Programme for Government 2021/22 to review the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, and where it believes there is scope to empower local communities further.

• The impact of the use of digital technology as a method of engagement and the risks that this presents to people who are digitally excluded.

You may wish to note that on 3 February 2022, the Public Audit Committee agreed to close its scrutiny of the Community empowerment: Covid-19 update. I hope that the information set out in this letter however provides a useful reference point to help inform your Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which you may wish to explore further as part of your work.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Leonard MSP

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