by Alasdair Mathers, Community Planning Managers Network member

Any views expressed here are personal and do not represent the views of my employer, or of the community planning managers network for Scotland of which I am a member.

Firstly, can I thank SCSN for inviting me to write a short piece on, as it was put to me, the ‘state of play between community safety and community planning ‘. This is a complex brief for short piece but here are some thoughts that I hope will encourage reflection and discussion.

Scotland is a diverse country with differing conditions across it that mean local services need to be delivered in locally appropriate ways. There are 32 different Community planning partnerships established now under the Community Empowerment Act 2015 each of which will have taken an approach to creating ‘safer communities’ driven by local factors. Some CPP’s have prioritised safety as a top issue, some have seen it as less so.

Creating ‘safer communities’ is very widely conceptualised across Scotland’s CPP’s, and differently in each area .This can be inclusive of all or some of the following (non-exhaustive) list: road safety, home safety, resilience planning for emergencies; trading standards, environmental health, mental health support services, anti – bullying, restorative practice, and managing risk taking behaviours  with children and families in schools and wider communities, hate crime reduction, on line safety, ‘safer by design’ planning. A core of actions usually appear; working together with communities and across partners around preventive policing; reducing anti – social behaviour, working with community led neighbourhood watch groups or equivalents; reducing drink related offending, knife crime, violence against women and girls, reducing drug misuse and engaging with child and adult protection systems. Some CPP’s will face the challenges of reducing sectarianism, others challenges with rural isolation and lack of access to services due to physical distances, others with drug deaths or people trafficking and so on.

No “one size fits all” model can do justice to such diversity, and this was part of the rationale for the development of the community planning model in Scotland from its inception in the period following the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Those of my age range may recall that the Constitutional Convention campaigned across civic society for devolution partly by claiming  this to be a first step in widening and modernising democracy by adopting the ‘subsidiarity principle’. This means that as far as possible all decisions should be taken as close to the people affected and with as much involvement of the same people in decisions as possible, or to quote a phrase in used in the equalities field “Nothing about us without us”.  Many MSP’s made statements early on supporting this vision – and subsequently policy statements about a “bonfire of quangos“ encouraged the impression that local democracy was about to see a renaissance.

Community planning therefore took shape in its first format as a duty placed on local democratic representatives and their workforces to coordinate the delivery of all publicly funded services in Scotland at the spatial level of a locally elected Council boundary, and at the same time to widen access to participation in decision making and ensure citizens ability to influence decisions makers – moving the culture from ‘doing to’ to ‘doing with’. The policy aim was to create a “participative democracy” rather than simply a “representative democracy” reaching out to seek to include those whose views were rarely influential, for example those marginalised by poverty, disability, ethnicity, sexuality, age or gender. Scottish public bodies were obliged to cooperate under the terms of the 2003 Local Government Act which formalised community planning as an approach. By 2015 this requirement had been extended to 5 public bodies having a legal duty to co- facilitate, (Councils, Police, NHS, Fire and Rescue and Scottish Enterprise).

Scottish legislation  on community justice reform , which has had a major impact on community planning and  the theme of ‘safer communities’ ;however worded  or configured in each CPP area  ;   began with  formal Scottish Government  consultations  in 2012  to 2014 . The then Scottish Government minister stated in the forward to the  Government response to  the  second stage consultation  that

The new model is designed to harness this commitment and passion as much as possible by encouraging a collaborative approach to local service delivery through Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs). We want those involved to feel empowered by the structures in place, not hindered by them, and believe this model will help deliver the best possible outcomes for those who find themselves in need of our support” .

A  Community Justice Bill  was introduced ,proceeding  to become law in  as the  Community Justice  Scotland Act 2016   and establishing the new national Community Justice Scotland  agency  which published guidance to all new emerging statutory  boards for Community justice.    An immediate challenge locally in CPP’s was to square this with existing community safety  and criminal justice governance  arrangements  resulting in a variety of governance and delivery   formulations  across CPP’s . In my own area a  joint community safety and justice board  was established . which  accepted responsibility for  planning and delivery of the Local Outcome Improvement Plan   work on  the safer communities agenda ; one of   our 5 CPP themes.


The next challenge for the emerging  statutory boards was addressing the detailed instructions provided by the  first iteration of  the  statutory guidance , in which the word ‘ must’ recurred  repeatedly . The tension here was  the  gap between the  legislative principles set out  for community planning I have  just described   and   the drive to  establish  a national standard set of ‘outcomes’ driven down to the local level as ‘instructions’ to be implemented  against  Scotland wide predetermined targets .  Much debate ensued . This period was  followed by the establishment of the staff team in the new national body  , Community Justice Scotland , and allocations of funding for locally employed staff to drive  the establishment  of new  community justice plans .

The remit of CJS  was itself the subject of much debate , with local  staff teams  with local  democratic accountabilities  concerned that they were  to have  two  potentially contradictory  accountabilities- one local one national  and  community planning colleagues concerned that the voice of the  local residents  was not a sufficiently  central driver of planning;   whether  this  came from victims of crime, ex-offenders , or simply citizens with views about how their communities were best kept safe and offending  behaviours reduced.

The backdrop to the delivery of these new plans  has to be set in the context of the large scale reductions in public service funding . Data  shows that the local government sector has experienced one of  the most significant contractions in  resources in my own 40 years of working life  As  the Accounts Commission has just put it  in their most recent review of local government finance :

“Scottish Government revenue funding to councils has reduced in real terms between 2013/14 and 2019/20, while national policy initiatives continue to make up an increasing proportion of council budgets. This reduces the flexibility councils have for deciding how they plan to use funding. At the same time, demands for council services are increasing from a changing population profile. All councils expect an increase in the proportion of people aged over 65 and almost a third of councils expect an increase in the proportion of children under 15”.

In 2019-20 Councils will be required to spend 12.1% of  their budget on national priorities  rather than those decided locally . Scotland’s local councils on average raise 18% of their revenue through council raised taxes , whilst in Europe the average is 40%.  Other public bodies have been affected by austerity policies and  central government policy choices at both  UK and Scottish level  too , some such as Further Education have been affected  very significantly   and it has become  a central  aim  of community planning to seek to  address continuing reductions in public resource collectively , to protect what is most  essential and reposition public expectations of what they can expect to see delivered from  taxation  . The impact on the third sector has been visible  especially affecting smaller local third sector agencies .

In this context ‘preventive interventions’ proclaimed by the Christie Commission as one of  the  four pillars of transformational change required in Scottish  Public services  are  under pressure as never before to demonstrate that they will provide a cost saving return   as well as any social value .   Community safety and community justice actions have the potential to deliver and often  clear  evidence to back up the effectiveness of  proposed approaches  , but as with public health within the National Health system  ,  or community learning and development within an  education system must compete for resources with the major blocks of investment in ‘business as usual’ – in this case the costs of   prisons, courts , policing,  who themselves are struggling with demand and   harsh financial choices .

The challenges are clear and shared-   partnership working  between public third and private sector agencies , and more especially between these agencies and the public  themselves ; addressing the growth in demand for services , without the  resources to meet these demands ; the  tension between national policy  and local  circumstances, tension between representative  and participative democracy  and the clash of social values between punishment and rehabilitation .  Community planning approaches  remain at the core  of  these debates around choices to deliver  safer communities  .