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Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 28, 2023


Community Planning Inquiry (Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015)

The Convener

The next item on our agenda is an evidence session on community planning. We will hear about the experiences of health and education community planning partners. This is the fifth session in our post-legislative scrutiny of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Our inquiry is looking at the impact of the legislation on community planning, and at how community planning partnerships respond to significant events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis.

I extend many thanks to our witnesses for joining us. We are joined by Craig McArthur, who is the director of health and social care in the East Ayrshire health and social care partnership; Alison McGrory, who is the associate director of public health in the Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership; and Alison MacLeod, who is the strategy and transformation lead in the Aberdeen City health and social care partnership. As Alison MacLeod is joining us online, I ask her to let the clerks know when she would like to reply to a question by typing R in the chat function. Craig McArthur and Alison McGrory can just indicate that to me or the clerks. There is no need to operate your microphones, as that will be done for you.

Annie Wells will begin our discussion with questions about the challenges that communities are facing.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

Good morning. I would like to look at the health and educational inequalities that communities are facing. What role do community planning partnerships have in tackling those issues? I will go to Craig McArthur first.

Craig McArthur (East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership)

We have a real strength in tackling educational inequalities through the community planning partnership, and through our children and young persons’ strategic partnership, which brings together a number of leaders from across the different sectors to consider and understand some of the challenges that face us. They have put really good, robust plans in place to start to deliver against those challenges.

One of our main priorities, particularly in the education part, is about positive destinations. We want to ensure that, when our young people leave school, they have a really good, strong and positive destination. There have been significant percentage increases year-on-year for the past five or six years, to the point where we are now one of the best performing areas on positive destinations. That is not necessarily young people going on to college and university but making them ready for the world of work.

On how that education part feeds in to health inequalities, it is very much about recognising that, if we can get our young people into the world of work and sustain them there, that brings opportunities to reduce health and other inequalities in later life, which will be key to that success, going forward.

We have a broad range of programmes that are associated with the “Caring for Ayrshire” vision, which is about reducing health inequalities over the longer term. It is not just about investment in traditional health and social care services but about recognising the impact of good housing, education, employment and so on and how that can flow through into improving health inequalities and into later life. The work that we do around that is absolutely key to this.

We are seeing that partnership working—bringing the key public sector partners together round the table—has been really effective in doing that. A number of the key players, including Ayrshire College, the council, the health board and our Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland partners, have a real strength in pathways into employment, whether that is through apprenticeships or graduate internships. Again, that is a real opportunity to encourage and support our young people through school and into the world of work.

Thanks very much for that. Alison McGrory, do you have anything to add?

Alison McGrory (Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership)

I certainly do. Clearly, all community planning partnerships must have local plans, and health and education are visible in ours. We have six long-term outcomes in Argyll and Bute.

It is challenging to make an impact on inequalities because of the range of issues that we have. If we look through the community planning lens, that is about the difference that we achieve by coming together as community planning partnerships. A lot of the work that we do—not just necessarily on health and education—we would do regardless. My speciality in public health is health improvement. You cannot do health improvement without working with and across other agencies. Suicide prevention and child poverty action planning are really good examples of where there is added value from the community planning partnerships. However, we would do that work to improve outcomes regardless.

There are challenges with choosing some things that are achievable in a community planning setting and doing those well enough so that you can see a difference. There are lots of fundamental things that, I hope, I will get the opportunity to come back to and talk about that are to do with how community planning partnerships could be strengthened and improved.

I completely agree with Craig McArthur that we do lots of things that have an impact on education and health, but we could achieve more.

Perfect. Alison MacLeod, do you have anything to add to that?

Alison MacLeod (Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership)

I absolutely agree with the previous two speakers. In Aberdeen city, we have 11 stretch outcomes in our local outcomes improvement plan, and the partners work together to deliver those.

I chair the resilient, included and supported outcome improvement group, and the focus is on adult health outcomes in the main. We are looking at improving healthy life expectancy, and each of the projects in that stretch outcome is led by a community planning partner. For instance, our project on suicide prevention is led by the police. We have a project on carer support that Quarriers leads on, which is a commissioned carer support service.

It is all about collaborative working, and about the priorities and challenges that are common to and shared by us all. Obviously, there is a lot of inequality that impacts on health, and there are so many aspects of that on which we need to work together to improve. The collaborative approach and the joined-up working that community planning brings are key to that success, and I agree with Alison McGrory that, although we are doing a lot and are achieving a lot, improvements could be made and more could be done.

Annie Wells

Thank you very much for that. I have just one more question. The submission from Glasgow Clyde College says that, previously, staff from the CPP visited community projects but that that no longer happens. I wondered whether, in your respective areas, CPPs ensure that all voices in the community are heard, including those of the communities of interest in particular. I will go first to Alison MacLeod.

Alison MacLeod

That is exactly one of the improvements that I was talking about. Those who participate in our community planning, particularly from the communities, tend to be a restricted group. In the main, they tend to be older retired professionals, and we are definitely missing the voices of younger people and people from seldom-heard groups in particular.

We are looking at how we do things at the minute. We have locality empowerment groups that we originally intended to be the focus for all our engagement and participation, but we realised that that is only one method that we can use and that we have to go out into the communities of interest. Rather than asking them to come and participate in another group, we need to go to them, and we need to find some way to link with the groups that are already there and to try to maximise the opportunity that is there.

I do not know whether Alison McGrory wants to come in next.

Alison McGrory

The way in which the groups are set up makes it hugely challenging. The locus of control, with local government having responsibility for delivering the committees, brings bureaucracy into how our meetings are run and delivered. I agree with Alison MacLeod. If we have meetings in the evening and at different times of the day, they tend to be attended by people who have time on their hands: those who are retired or older people in our communities. Although they are a valid part of community planning structures, they are not always representative of the whole community.

We do not necessarily ask our representatives to canvass their wider community, and we do not have the structures in place so that they can canvass the views of other people. That is a really important point in terms of how we agree what the outcomes will be and how we then invest in delivering those outcomes if we do not have a system of democracy in relation to who attends and participates in community planning structures.

I feel that our meetings are really formal. I have experience only of the health board in my area—NHS Highland—so I cannot comment on other areas. We try our best. We bring in some of our community groups and our members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, but we still have the formality of agendas, minutes and how our meetings are recorded.

As a health improver, I am a real advocate of building capacity, investing in our local structures and freeing the reins. People would probably not understand community planning in terms of what is required by the 2005 act, but they understand what it means to come together to make their communities better and to be empowered to take things forward and make a difference. We need to cut away some of that bureaucracy.

Thanks for that. Craig, would you like to come in on that, please?

Craig McArthur

Yes, thank you. I agree that there is a certain formality around community planning, as there probably must be, but, for the engagement to get to that point, we are keen to meet some of the groups that are not necessarily part of the community planning partnership board. Let us consider young people. Every year, we have a joint session when we meet the children and young person’s cabinet and the MSYPs. They come along and we take the opportunity to have good, strong engagement with them about their priorities and what we as a community planning partnership board can do, together with and alongside them, to support the delivery of those priorities.

Our community plans have three themes. I am responsible for delivery of the wellbeing aspect and how that sits across health and social care. We recently finished some local conversations where we went into our communities and met people. We had three local conversations across different community areas. Those were fascinating sessions. We had the good fortune that one session was on a Friday that was part of a long weekend for the schools, so a lot of mums with young kids came along, which totally changed the dynamic of the event in comparison with the next week, at which it was the typical grey suits and other folk who normally engage. The feedback from each of the sessions was fascinating and very different. Taking those opportunities to engage differently is key to how we start to hear those voices and to ensure that we take forward those agendas in a different way.


There are other groups on our community planning partnership board. We have four representatives from the community sector sitting on our board: two from community councils and two from community-led action plan steering groups. We therefore hear the voice of the communities. We also have two representatives from the voluntary sector, and two from the chamber of commerce so that we have business voices in there, too. We have a wide range of voices on the community planning partnership board, but the big gap is the voice of the young person. The other arrangements that we have in place allow us to fill that gap.

Thank you very much.

The Convener

It is good to hear about different approaches. I keep wondering whether a way to include young people would be to make community planning part of the school curriculum. Young people who are studying for a higher could be part of a community planning partnership and weigh in on that.

I digress. I will bring in Mark Griffin, who will ask about community empowerment.

Mark Griffin

We are reviewing the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. At the most basic level, has community participation improved since the introduction of the 2015 act? Has the act had any meaningful impact on such participation? Do you have anything to evidence an increase in the levels of participation? I will come to Alison McGrory first.

Alison McGrory

That is quite hard to answer. I speak from my personal experience as a public health professional. If you were to ask someone else in my community planning partnership in Argyll and Bute, they might have a different view, but I am not entirely sure that we are making a difference.

Community empowerment is not just about legislation, although that is clearly important. Clear rationale for that is provided by the Christie commission and some of the earlier seminal work that grounds public health, such as the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, which is about empowering and enabling people to improve their health and wellbeing outcomes. That is really robust and clear, but, to support that, there needs to be a rebalancing of power and how we redistribute investment, and that is not necessarily there. A lot of bravery is required to go down that route, but, if you want communities to come together meaningfully to make a difference, it needs to be about more than the good will of a partnership where there is not any money or accountability, so that the locals have control of health and social care through the health and social care partnerships, the statutory bodies, the parent bodies of the national health service boards and local authorities.

What difference it makes is a difficult question to answer, because accountability rests with the statutory bodies and the good will of community planning partners. There is a lot of good will, and a lot of really good work being done, but, for me, if we want to see a difference in empowering communities to improve outcomes, it is about how we shift the locus of control into the communities.

Thanks. I bring in Craig McArthur.

Craig McArthur

We have seen significant changes in east Ayrshire since the 2015 act came into force. I will give three examples of community asset transfer. Some of the assets from the council have transferred to community ownership or lease arrangements. As of last week, almost 60 effective community asset transfers had taken place. One asset was returned to the council and quickly transferred again. The initial concern was that community asset transfers might go out but would come back quickly because of how the community would feel about it. We have not seen that at all. The asset that came back was not a failure; there was a change of circumstances that caused it to be reconsidered. Those community asset transfers have been really effective.

We also have community-led action plans across 23 of our communities. That is where people come together as a community to set out their own aims, objectives and actions for what they want to see improved in their community. Those are not led or driven by the council: they are facilitated by us, but the communities come together to deliver them. Uptake of 40 per cent is required. The community is asked—questionnaires and surveys are issued—and the plan can be taken forward only if there is a 40 per cent return rate. There is real buy-in from local communities to progress the plans.

The final example is participatory budgeting. We have done several of those events. The previous one, which was on wellbeing services, took place last September. In that case, a number of events took place across different areas and more than 1,000 participants came together to vote on their priorities for spending around £250,000 of wellbeing moneys in local areas. That level of participation was brilliant. The feedback was, “When will the next one be?”. People were absolutely enthused by it not just because it was an opportunity to get some money but because it involved coming together and sharing stories. The feedback that we got was absolutely priceless, so there were some really good success stories for us.

Alison MacLeod, do you have anything to add?

Alison MacLeod

Yes. Participation has ramped up in the years since the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2005 was introduced. Prior to the pandemic, around 300 community members participated in our locality empowerment groups. You cannot overestimate the impact of the pandemic over the past three years on that participation. It has paused the progress that we were making, and we are in the process of trying to recover from that, but it will take us time to get back up to the levels of participation that we had.

Communities are being asked to do a lot. We often hear about consultation fatigue, and some people are telling us: “Don’t come and ask us again what we want, because we’re fed up telling you”. In Aberdeen, we are trying to get a more joined-up approach. We have joined up the locality planning arrangements between the health and social care partnership and the local authority so that the locality empowerment groups cover not just the health agenda but the whole range of local authority priorities. We are trying to coincide those priorities and streamline the processes and the means by which people can come forward and engage, making it as easy as possible for them.

Mark Griffin

My second question is about the level of awareness in the community of community planning and community planning partnerships. I will come to Craig first. Is the community broadly aware that community planning exists, of what it does and of how to get involved?

Craig McArthur

I suspect that the answer to that is no. If you couch the question as, “Do you know what a community planning partnership is?”, the answer from the vast majority of people would probably be “No.” However, if you described it in terms of community-led action plans, participatory budgeting and some of the good stuff that we have seen happening around community empowerment and how communities can be involved, most of our communities would absolutely recognise it. They see the opportunities to get involved and to make a difference in their communities. However, if you couch the question in statutory terms, based on what the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 talks about, people will not recognise it.

Part of the challenge for us is in how to have conversations in a different way so that communities understand what we are trying to achieve and what contribution they can make to that. Language is really important: how we couch things and the terms that we use are absolutely critical. If we asked our communities your specific question, I suspect that the answer from the majority would be that they do not understand it, that they do not think that it happens where they are or that they really do not see how they can take it forward. However, if you go into the detail, you will get a very different response.

Okay. Thanks for that.

Alison MacLeod

I agree that there will be limited awareness of the structure of community planning, but if you were to ask our communities, they would say that we do engage with them and ask them to participate in various things, including some of the commissioning that we do.

It is about semantics; it is about language. Many of our community representatives are not interested in the structure or the framework around community planning. What they are most interested in is that we come out to speak to them, that we listen to them and that we deliver what they are looking for.

Alison McGrory

I do not have a lot to add to that. Engagement goes to the heart of public health, and there is a challenge with regard to the commonly heard voices and the seldom heard voices. We have to work harder to engage with the seldom heard voices. Yesterday, for example, I had an event in Dunoon on getting it right for everyone, which is an aspirational model for adults that is modelled on getting it right for every child. Twenty people turned up; they were people who are fairly engaged in community activity. I did a bit of canvassing on their understanding of community planning in advance of my coming here today, and there was a good level of understanding in that small cohort.

Conversely, at a family party on Saturday, I told friends and family that I was coming here, and among them there is a very low level of understanding of community planning. Generally, that group is probably more representative than the people whom I was working with yesterday for the purposes of health and social care.

There is a challenge. I agree with Craig McArthur that people understand what makes their community strong and vibrant and how it can be better, but when we talk about community empowerment legislation, they do not get that.

Thank you.

The Convener

We are a bit short of time because previous business went over time. Colleagues, I ask you to roll your questions into one, where that makes sense and is possible. Guests, we want to hear from you, but if something has already been said—

You get the point. It has been a challenging morning.

Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I will ask about the role of the third sector and communities and the experience of local organisations, primarily, in terms of your remit. I am interested to hear about the strategic planning board level, but also in the team level. What is their involvement? I will go to Alison MacLeod first. One of the key things that you said in your evidence was:

“We would like to see a strategic shift to embrace community led action”.

How do you get community and third sector involvement in discussions to make them relevant and to make the “strategic shift” that you mention?

Alison MacLeod

First, I note that our third sector interface organisation, the Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations, is very involved in all the work that we do. We try to go through it and we use it as much as we can in order to interface with community organisations and the voluntary sector, in particular. It is involved in a lot of our groups: it is on our strategic planning group and our strategic commissioning and procurement board. We try to link in as much as possible.

We also have community representatives on our strategic planning group, and when we undertake commissioning and so on we involve people so that we are doing co-design and co-production. We see achieving the strategic shift as a long game; we are chipping away and doing bits where and when we can. We have some evidence about what we have achieved, but there is a long way to go. It is hard work, and we need to keep at it and to keep trying.

Alison McGrory

I have a quick response. We work closely with the local third sector interface. Its people sit at the table, and in our area its members are on community planning groups and on the management committee. As for how represented the third sector is, let us think about the challenges that the third sector has in delivering its services while it does all the ongoing fundraising that it has to do. Often, the services have year-to-year funding streams. That is a real challenge for the sector and does not always allow it the capacity to participate in community planning, which it perhaps sees as being a bit of an add-on and a nice thing to do.


That is a really important point to make. Thanks for that.

Craig McArthur

As I mentioned before, we have third sector representation on the community planning partnership board, so we hear its voice there, at our executive officer group and at our strategic planning and wellbeing delivery group, which is co-chaired by me and the vice-chair of the integration joint board. There is third-sector interface representation on all those groups.

In March last year, we created what we call a partnership provider statement that all local bodies that deliver services on our behalf signed up to. It is about collaborative commissioning and is a suite of collective beliefs. It talks about how we celebrate success in what we are delivering together, and it identifies opportunities to improve through working together in partnership and collaboration. That is in order to try to move away from having third-sector bodies being almost in competition with one another because lots of bodies are fighting for the same pots of money. We try to encourage them to work together and to deliver services together for the benefit of our communities in what we, as a health and social care partnership, are trying to do. That has been really effective.

The Convener

We will move on to local outcomes improvement plans and locality plans.

I was interested to hear from Alison MacLeod about awareness of consultation fatigue in Aberdeenshire, and that you have joined up locality plans so that you have coinciding priorities and streamlined processes. We are aware that there is a potentially cluttered landscape with so many plans. I am interested to hear from all of you about LOIPs and the locality plans and how they are working. In particular, CPPs have been set up to take the preventative approach. Are the strategic plans helping us to achieve that outcome? I start with Alison MacLeod.

Alison MacLeod

In Aberdeen city, the local outcomes improvement plan is the paramount plan, so our strategic plan for the health and social care partnership is linked directly to that. Any projects that we have within the stretch outcomes of the local outcomes improvement plan are totally reflected in our strategic plan, so that we are not duplicating use of resource or effort and are seeing full alignment.

One of our strategic aims in our strategic plan is prevention: many projects in the local outcomes improvement plan relate to the prevention agenda. NHS Grampian also aims for that, with its strategy and plan for the future. The planners from each organisation have joint meetings at which we discuss our approaches. We try to do joined-up consultation, where we can, to inform our planning processes. There is a journey to take, and we are at the beginning of that journey. Our most recent plans are probably quite reflective of joined-up and collaborative working, but we still have some way to go. We have started that snowball; we hope that it will keep rolling along and getting bigger as we try to bring all the strands together so that we have one landscape.

Thanks very much for that. It sounds as though clarity is really important.

How is it going in Argyll and Bute, with the LOIPs and locality plans?

Alison McGrory

I have a lot to say about this, so maybe I do not have time to do it justice. In Argyll and Bute community planning partnership, we do what the legislation and guidance tell us to do. The guidance tells us that we have to have LOIPs. They are needs based, and the needs are deficit driven, so we have to ask, “What is the problem and what is our response to addressing that problem?”.

That can be flipped around. I am not sure whether all the panel members are familiar with the term “asset-based community development”. That is about knowing what is strong in a community and making it stronger, thereby empowering and building from a strength rather than from a deficit. That is quite a flip. We can do that asset-based community development to the best of our ability, but it does not fit what the guidance on community planning asks us to do. That is a paradigm shift—probably a big meaty one for the panel to consider.

There is another aspect to consider. The Christie report recognised that we needed to be better at performance. Now, 12 years on from the Christie report, there is an industry around performance. I can honestly say that my team in public health is often doing performance reporting to the detriment of the work on which we are reporting. There needs to be some common sense applied on that; it needs to be simplified. We must, clearly, ensure that we can establish that we are doing the right things—we have to show the outputs and the differences—but not to the point of generating hugely complex performance outcome matrices, frameworks and all the rest of it, with which you will be very familiar.

Thank you very much; that is very helpful.

Craig McArthur

Without repeating everything that the two Alisons have said, I will build on the last point about having to produce data and stats. We know that, under the legislation, we have to produce them and that the LOIP has to contain particular things. We have deliberately tried to go into story-telling mode by using case studies to describe what is happening and the outcomes, and to show the differences that are being made for people and communities in real life. The narrative is almost “a picture tells a thousand stories”. For us, the stories are much more important than the stats.

I am really keen that that becomes the direction of travel in all our performance reporting. It should be about telling real-life stories of lived experience and about the impact that we are having on people. That is how we are trying to address the challenges in what is quite a rigid system that says what we need to report on. We recognise that we have a wee bit of flexibility at the edges, and that is where we can start to make a real difference with story telling. We have been talking about our communities not recognising community planning, but when we tell those stories we can engage with communities so that they understand the work that is taking place and its impact in delivering change in their areas.

The Convener

Thanks for that. Story telling makes things so much more accessible.

I want to go back to Alison McGrory on asset-based versus deficit-based community development. You said that the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act provides guidelines on the approach. Is there not flexibility in that? My understanding is that guidelines are just that and do not say, “You must do it this way”. Do you feel that in the guidelines there is not flexibility to move to an asset-based approach? You made a really good point about building on what is already working. Is there scope there, or does something in the legislation need to be reviewed?

Alison McGrory

I was thinking about this a lot yesterday. I am not sure. It is quite a fundamental shift. We do the best that we can within the paradigm by which health and social care services are provided for the people who need them. We know that, if we get downstream, we can do lots on preventative services, but we are funded and resourced to deliver in the here and now. It is almost as if we need to build prevention and a response in parallel. We are clamouring for that just now, given the impacts of Covid, the social determinants of health and the sustainability of services.

Where I am, in Argyll and Bute, for example, it is not simply about money; it is also about how we can bring people in to fill the jobs to which we want to appoint. Taking the asset-based approach would be a paradigm shift, and clear expectations are needed. I am not entirely sure whether that is about legislation or guidance, but to enable the paradigm shift and so that we can take that route, fundamental change is needed. It is easy to do a needs assessment. What does the quantitative data tell us about what the problem is? What does the evidence say about what the response should be? What do we do then? How do we continue to measure the problem to see whether it has reduced? Very often, a problem does not reduce because it exists within the context of demographic change or other factors.

Mental health improvement is a prime example in which the traditional response is about delivering more of the same services—counselling services and that type of response to the problem—rather than being about preventative action and about what keeps people mentally well in communities. We know the social determinants of health—good income, good housing and good jobs—and all those should be protected for mental health improvement, as opposed to our responding downstream, when people are in distress, with what we need to do through counselling or other services.

Thanks very much. That was helpful.

I call Marie McNair, who has questions on the theme of measuring impact.

Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

Good morning, panel.

I will start with Alison MacLeod. Do you feel that CPPs are able to demonstrate their impact? Are they making a difference? If they are, what examples would you highlight of their success?

Alison MacLeod

It is probably difficult to measure some of the differences that are being made, but I would say that we are making a difference. I would go back to the projects that we have put in place against each of our stretch outcomes. Each starts with a project charter that lays out the aims and how we will measure things; we start with the baseline measure of where we are, and we state our intention and where we want to be. With suicide prevention, for example, we have the number of suicides in our area last year, and we set a target for reducing it. We then monitor and report on the numbers, which allows us to measure differences.

As some of the changes that we are trying to make feature long-term goals such as changing behaviours and making an impact on healthy life expectancy, we cannot measure them over the short term of a project. However, we keep those measures, and we have our outcome measures that we continue to monitor as the years go by to ensure that we are able to demonstrate what difference has been made.

We employ an improvement methodology and do small tests of change, and we scale things up to the wider areas only if those tests work. With that approach, we have a means of demonstrating what we do and identifying the projects or activities that are worth taking forward, committing resource to and scaling up to make a bigger difference.

Thanks for that. Craig, would you like to come in?

Craig McArthur

I suppose that I kind of answered the last question when I talked about story telling. Some of that relates to this question, too: it is about telling those stories, describing what things mean in those terms and using case study approaches in ways that are understood.

For us, the key to demonstrating success will be good use of data, so that we become increasingly data informed. The intelligence that we have in that respect is crucial. As we become more effective at partnership working across agencies, the ability to share data across agencies becomes more and more critical. However, that can sometimes be challenging. Sometimes we share data in particular circumstances and for particular reasons. If you want to do so for different reasons, you will need to take a whole new approach in terms of information-sharing protocols. The impact of the general data protection regulation on information and data sharing can sometimes be challenging, but the opportunities around it are endless. If we can crack that nut, there are real opportunities to do things in a different way with better use of data and better sharing of information.

On specific examples of making a difference, we have some examples on suicide prevention. However, as Alison MacLeod has already mentioned that issue, I will not talk about it. Instead, I will highlight the help everyone at the right time—or HEART—wellbeing model, which we recently developed for children’s wellbeing services and which goes across a range of statutory and third sector partners. It has proven to be really effective. We have also done some good work on addiction support with rapid access to drug treatment—and, by rapid, I mean 24 to 48 hours—through an approach called RADAR or rapid access to drug and alcohol recovery. We have also managed to deploy peer recovery workers into some key areas. There are some real success stories in that respect.

Our most recent success story, however, is probably the response to the cost of living crisis and the use of our financial inclusion resources, which we have grown in recent years. We now have financial inclusion support in our secondary schools and the broader cluster, and we also have financial inclusion support in our deep-end general practices, which is funded through the Scottish Government and which, again, is having a real impact. The same financial inclusion teams are working in the courts as well as working closely with Macmillan Cancer Support for people suffering from cancer. Quite recently, we have also started to deploy financial inclusion resources in our health visiting teams, going into families at an early stage when they have young children, and we are starting to make a real difference there. It is having a huge impact on what we do as a service, but it is also putting a lot of money into people’s pockets, allowing them to be much more resilient and responding to challenges themselves. We have had some really good successes there.


Thank you. Alison McGrory, do you have anything to add?

Alison McGrory

Yes, I just want to make one or two points.

First, the strong cohesion that we have in our partnership working lends itself to leadership in delivering certain strategies. We have talked about the child poverty plan, and I am really proud of the work that we have done in that respect. I am not sure whether it is happening in the same cycle, but we are also in the process of updating our children and families strategy in Argyll and Bute. We also have our living well strategy, which is about supporting people with long-term health conditions, and our primary prevention aims, which are about preventing the occurrence of long-term health conditions. There are lots of strengths in all of that.

I also want to mention a couple of things with regard to our aspirations for joint engagement approaches. Health and social care has statutory responsibilities to engage effectively with communities, and there has been a lot of cross-fertilisation, cross-learning and going out to communities collectively, instead of in parallel, to ask lots of questions about different things. There are synergies and successes in there.

Finally, we now have a unified equalities impact assessment process that, because we have 23 inhabited islands in Argyll and Bute, also includes island impacts. That is now routinely used to reduce the impact of inequalities.


I call Miles Briggs to ask about the culture of public bodies.

Miles Briggs

Good morning and thank you for joining us today.

Your comments about where you think the public are in all of this have been refreshing and honest, but I want to ask a few questions about how this approach has changed organisations and bodies. You touched on that in response to my colleague Marie McNair when you talked about working with third sector and outside organisations. How has resource and budget allocation changed? For most of the groups to whom we have spoken, the issue comes down to who pays for delivery. Do you have examples of what that has looked like and how CPPs have helped change that resource allocation?

Craig McArthur

As I mentioned at the start, our community plan has three specific themes: wellbeing; economy and skills; and safer communities. A lead officer is assigned to each. I lead on wellbeing from within health and social care; our chief education officer leads on economy and skills; and one of the local senior police officers leads on safer communities. We have real strength when it comes to the question of who takes the work forward—it is already deployed to community planning partners. The executive officer group comes together regularly to discuss what resources we have, what decisions we are taking and how they might impact on partner bodies to ensure that we have that close understanding.

Once a year—it happened just a few weeks ago, in fact—we come together for a closed-door budget session in which we have warts-and-all discussion of where we as individual organisations are with budget settlements, what savings we might need to make and how we are ensuring that there is no adverse impact. You can have almost consequential impacts, because decisions taken in one place to make savings can perhaps push other work further downstream or upstream, so we are really careful about those consequences. That approach has proven to be really effective, and we have been having those really detailed budget discussions for the past five or six years now. They sometimes help inform decisions that we then present to the cabinet or the council with regard to a council position on budget decision making.

A few new members who recently joined the executive officer group have experience of other community planning partnerships. They might be very new in the door, but they recognise the group’s strengths and maturity, particularly our good and robust decision-making process for resourcing and finances. Although we can pool budgets, do things in a joined-up way and put money together, we make sure that we do not take decisions that will have an impact on only one part. We have a real joined-up approach and synergy in decision making at every step along the way, and it is really helpful for us.

Alison McGrory, do you have anything to add?

Alison McGrory

I have actually thought quite a lot about this. Again, it comes back to the limitations of community planning partnerships, which do not really have that locus of governance control or a say in how statutory bodies allocate their resources. What Craig McArthur said was interesting, because I would say that what he described actually comes from the good will that exists and the strength of the partnership working rather than from the guidance on what community planning should achieve. I am really unsure about that.

Perhaps I can take the climate emergency as an example. Like everybody else, our CPP recognises the importance of considering our response to it, the influence that we can have on it and what we can deliver to address it. We have been looking for a really small pot of money to employ a development officer to take things forward over the next two or three years, but it has been really hard to get it. We have been able to put in a bit of public health money, but it has been hard to get the rest.

It is also important that I flag the work that is going on in parallel on the proposed community wealth building legislation. Indeed, as far as operational capacity is concerned, a lot of things happen in parallel. To people in Parliament or in the Government, they might seem joined up, but from my experience of putting them into practice in order to deliver what I need to deliver with my team and then reporting back, it does not always feel like that to me. We should be having really important conversations about community wealth building. In response to the committee’s call, I formed a focus group in December, and I intend to form another one with similar people to put together our response to community wealth building. That work overlaps with this.

That was helpful—thank you. Alison MacLeod, did you want to come in?

Alison MacLeod

Yes, briefly. It is similar to what Craig McArthur talked about. The structure that we have in Aberdeen encourages participation and resource—that is, staff—to get involved in and lead the projects. We try to make sure that the chair and the vice-chair of the outcome improvement groups come from the spread of partners. As I have said, the structure certainly lends itself to encouraging participation and resource—if, by that, we mean people—but it is not really the same with regard to budgets and money. The resource that is allocated is, as I have said, people.

Some project outcomes have helped inform some of the partners’ budget decisions. There is evidence that putting in a bit of resource makes a difference and that, in order to scale things up, some investment might be needed. It is all about helping to inform budget decisions instead of budgets being pooled to deliver things.

That was helpful. I know that capturing resource in kind is sometimes quite difficult to quantify with a financial figure.

We now move to our final theme, which is local and national leadership.

Willie Coffey

Good morning to you all. The committee has heard contrasting evidence about the success or otherwise of CPPs across Scotland and the key role of leadership in driving them forward. I have a couple of questions that I will roll into one, if I can.

Do you recognise leadership as a key driver in making the CPP in your local authority area succeed? Is that leadership shared among the partners on the CPP, or is it still very much driven by local authority officials? Do you have any recommendations or comments to make on the national guidance and on the statutory bodies that largely participate in the CPPs? Principally, what does leadership look like, and what makes for a successful CPP?

I will start with you, Craig, since you are from East Ayrshire.

Craig McArthur

Is leadership important? Absolutely—it has to be. Leadership will always be important in all that we do. In fact, it is of critical importance. As far as the community aspect is concerned, if we are serious about making this a success, regardless of whether we couch it in terms of the formalities around community planning or the reality of what people recognise by it, having strong leadership will be key.

The council has a statutory role in taking a lead in community planning, but that is at a local level: it is not simply left to the council to get on with it. The council leader will chair the community planning partnership board—that is fine, and it always happens—but there is also really good engagement from all the other statutory bodies around the table and all the other members of the community planning partnership board.

As for engagement and leadership at officer level, there is really good and strong engagement at chief executive level across all the partner organisations. The position of chair on the executive officers group rolls around the different organisations. Our local fire commander recently demitted the chair; I have now taken it on; and, next year, the responsibility will move to the local police commander. That leadership role in the partnership is therefore to the fore and is really important.

I do not want to underestimate the importance of leadership. We are very fortunate in East Ayrshire in that the local leadership is very keen to take the community plan forward. Everybody recognises that the community plan is almost a sovereign plan that sits above all the individual partners’ local plans, so we are all singing the same tune. That is absolutely apparent in all the meetings that we attend.

As for whether we want the role of statutory bodies to change in the legislation, I just think of the flexibility that we currently have. There is a statutory requirement for certain people to be involved; there is also flexibility to engage beyond that, and we take that opportunity, which is helpful. To specify things and be rigid about who should be on a community planning partnership board would not be helpful. We absolutely welcome local flexibility, and we recognise the merit in and benefits of bringing in the right people, but it would not be helpful to prescribe that in legislation, beyond what we already have.

Alison McGrory

On the question whether we are driven by local authorities, the answer is both no and yes. In fact, I already answered the question when I talked about the bureaucracy lent by local authorities. Like Craig McArthur, we get really good leadership from our local police, fire, health and local authority representatives, and we, too, have a rotating chair. However, because our boundaries are not coterminous with those of the police and the fire services, somebody from outwith Argyll and Bute will be in the chair. They will be good and strong leaders, but there is something to be said for leaders living and working in a community and understanding what goes on there when we drive things forward.

As an aside—and you have probably had this impression from other answers—this is about shifting the locus from statutory bodies to the communities. Should the really important work to improve community wellbeing be chaired by a fire or police commander? I do not know. There needs to be governance, but some of our community members and leaders are involved in lots of the organic work that happens alongside community planning and which we have not yet had a chance to talk about. A raft of work happens because community members mobilise; they see something that they want to do, they achieve it and they make a difference—and not as a result of community planning. Sometimes, community planning will take a bit of the credit, but that work happens, because there are people who fundamentally want to make their communities better. This is all about putting the community at the heart of community planning and really empowering our community members.

Alison MacLeod

I agree with Craig McArthur, particularly with regard to the leadership that we get from the local authority. There is absolutely a will on the part of all the community planning partners to be around and about this, but we rely heavily on the local authority to make it all happen. By that, I mean driving things and making sure the meetings happen, the project charters have been completed and the reports are in. As a result, there probably needs to be a partner who is there and can really grasp this.

I also agree with Craig McArthur about giving us the flexibility to make the membership of the community planning partnership appropriate to the area and appropriate to needs, because there will be times when we need more input from certain organisations. The cost of living crisis is a good example of that.

Finally, I echo Alison McGrory’s comments that the structure tends to be quite top heavy, if you like, in terms of commanders and people at a senior level. I keep coming back to the journey that we are on; perhaps this is the way in which things needed to start, but eventually we will, I hope, be able to achieve that locally led vision that Alison has set out.

I thank the three of you very much for your contributions.

The Convener

I know that we use it often, too, but I love the metaphor of the journey that we are on and our direction of travel, and I hope that the work that the committee is doing and all the evidence that it is taking will help us move in the direction of putting communities even more at the heart of this work. Thank you so much for joining us today.

The committee agreed at the start of the meeting to take the next item in private. As this evidence-taking session was the last public item on our agenda, I close the public part of the meeting.

11:46 Meeting continued in private until 12:08.