The Community Empowerment Act 8 years on – what difference has it made? 

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What does an empowered community look like? Are people able to influence local services? To what extent can public bodies help narrow socio-economic inequalities? What has COVID-19  taught us about the importance of the third sector to Scotland’s communities? 

These are some of the questions the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee will ask over the next few weeks as it tries to understand the impact of the 2015 Community Empowerment Act. This blog has been jointly prepared by SPICe researchers and committee clerks, and provides some background information on what the Committee is trying to achieve and how it is going about it. 

Post-legislative scrutiny – an important role with a boring name 

The Scottish Parliament’s committees have an important role in examining how effective legislation is proving to be once it comes into force.  We can look back at the aspirations of legislation, explore how it’s been implemented, make sure public bodies are doing what they are supposed to be doing and (try to) get some understanding of impact. 

Towards the end of most inquiries, the relevant Government minister is invited to attend a committee meeting to answer members’ questions. Inquiries will then conclude with a report being published that includes recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider and respond to.  

Community empowerment 

The Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee is continuing work begun by its predecessor Committee (the Session 5 Local Government and Communities Committee) to explore some key parts of the Community Empowerment Act 2015.  The Act was a flagship piece of legislation that the Scottish Government described as being intended to: 

“help communities to do more for themselves and have more say in decisions that affect them”. 

Community empowerment can mean many things to different people, and the Act covers a lot of very different components of how that empowerment can come about.  Previous Committee inquiries have looked at the powers in the Act around community asset transfers (Part 5 of the Act), participation requests (Part 3), and local authority provision of allotments (Part 9)

Although community empowerment itself can be a difficult concept to define and measure, Part 2 of the Act is also very much concerned about: 

  1. The participation of communities in local decision-making; 
  1. the extent to which public bodies are working together; and  
  1. the impact they are having on socio-economic inequalities.  

These are things that can be measured, and the Committee will be taking evidence on these matters and assessing whether or not improvements have been made since 2015. 

What does Part 2 of the 2015 Act actually do? 

Community planning is about public bodies working together with local communities to design and deliver services. It involves a range of organisations and sectors, ranging from local authorities, health boards, the ‘blue-light’ police and fire services, to colleges and universities, national parks, enterprise bodies and VisitScotland. Equally important are the community organisations, charities and individuals whose participation is a key part of the ambitions of the 2015 legislation.  

Part 2 of the Community Empowerment Act 2015 aimed to strengthen the legal basis for community planning partnerships (CPPs) to achieve better outcomes for local communities. The Act requires Scotland’s 32 CPPs to participate with community bodies, especially those that “represent the interests of persons who experience inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage”. Detailed guidance was published in 2016 setting out how public bodies should work to comply with the Act. 

On the community plan itself, Part 2 of the Act requires planning partnerships to: 

  • Prepare and publish a Local Outcomes Improvement Plan (LOIP) which sets out the local outcomes which the CPP will prioritise for improvement. 
  • Outcomes must be consistent with the National Outcomes set out by the Scottish Government in the National Performance Framework
  • Act with a view to reducing inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage (unless the CPP decides not to). 
  • Identify smaller areas within the local authority area which experience the poorest outcomes, and prepare and publish locality plans to improve outcomes on agreed priorities for these communities. 
  • Review and report publicly on progress towards their LOIP and locality plans, and keep the continued suitability of these plans under review. 

The Committee’s current inquiry 

This inquiry specifically covers the requirement for community planning to take place in each local authority area.  The Committee is asking organisations and people across Scotland what their experience of community planning has been since the Act came into force, and for their insights into both the challenges faced by their communities and the opportunities for change.  These will enable the Committee to look at community planning from all perspectives, and help it consider what recommendations it could make to the Scottish Government for taking action. 

The inquiry is looking to reach as many of these people and organisations as possible.  It began with an online survey and a call for written views, which jointly received over 120 responses.  Committee members then heard from 37 third sector and community organisations at an online event about what their involvement in community planning has been like.  And members have also visited Engage Renfrewshire (a ‘Third Sector Interface’) in Paisley to meet with them and their partners about their experiences.  

During February and March 2023, the Committee is holding meetings where it will hear from different panels of experts, including Community Planning Partnership members from across the country, the Accounts Commission, researchers, charities, and community representatives.  Finally, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth will appear before the Committee in April, before Members then agree the inquiry’s conclusions and publish a report by the summer. 

To follow the inquiry’s progress, see the Committee’s webpage at Community Planning Inquiry | Scottish Parliament Website or follow it on twitter at @SP_LocalGov 

Katherine Byrne, Assistant Clerk to the Local Government, Housing & Planning Committee, and Greig Liddell, Senior Researcher, SPICe. 

Featured image: Copyright Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.