Deprivation, addictions and (re)offending are complex social problems. As such, it is recognised that it lies beyond the power of any single organisation to deal with them effectively, and partnership between different agencies - including the NHS, local authorities and charities – is key to addressing and resolving them.
But such integrated response has been impacted by the restrictions of lockdown and Covid.
Now a project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19, will investigate local partnership resilience. The Principal Investigator is Dr Jamie Buchan, Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Applied Sciences.
In Scotland, local government has historically been more autonomous, relative to central government, than in England and Wales. The 2007-8 financial crisis and post-2010 austerity policies have seriously reduced budgets available for services in local areas. Scotland’s response has been to promote better partnership working between agencies in local areas, and reorient services towards prevention rather than response to adverse outcomes, to maintain the levels of service where possible while saving money.
Partnership and the ‘prevention principle’ were enshrined in the Christie Commission’s Report on the Future Delivery of Public Services, which makes Scotland a particularly fruitful area for the social study of local partnership arrangements.
The research team, which includes Andrew Wooff and Katrina Morrison, both colleagues from SAS, with support from a new Research Assistant, Carmen Nogales, will look at the operation of formal partnership arrangements in Scotland at the level of local authorities. These include Community Planning Partnerships, Community Justice/Reducing Reoffending Partnerships and Health and Social Care Partnerships.
Covid-19 and the associated lockdown have put huge strains on public services at this level, intensifying some social problems (e.g. isolation and domestic abuse) and putting extra strains on local authority funding in other ways. For instance, with very few people hiring venues, revenues fallen.
Not only that, but the actual ‘partnership work’ that goes on in such arrangements depends on clear lines of communication. The research team will look at evidence where local partnerships have risen to the challenges to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and develop innovative approaches to longstanding social problems. For example, street homelessness was dramatically reduced in the summer of 2020 as a result of local authorities and other organisations working together.
The team will also explore whether partnership work in other areas has been compromised or hindered by the pandemic, for example where regular in-person meetings have had to be replaced by virtual meetings.
“We are keen to identify policy lessons for local partnerships in the wider UK and beyond, and our intended outputs are very much geared towards this,” says Dr Buchan.
“The project will begin with an online survey of all Scottish local authorities, to gauge views generally and identify particular areas of concern and interest. This will be used to shape the second stage of the project, which will comprise in-depth interviews with personnel in a few Scottish local authorities. In this way we aim to be both ‘wide and deep’ in our approach.
“The aim is to understand how Covid-19 has impacted on local partnership arrangements, but also to identify examples of good and innovative adaptations to maintain partnership working and community resilience through the pandemic.”
The team’s research questions are:
- 1. How has Covid-19 affected Scottish local partnership arrangements, in the short and medium term?
- 2. How has Covid-19 affected efforts to implement the recommendations of the Christie Commission (particularly the prevention principle) in Scottish local government?
- 3. How have Scottish local partnerships changed their practices to meet the challenge of the pandemic, and how can any progress be built upon?
- 4. What are the implications of these for existing social inequalities?
- 5. What are the potential lessons for other countries, particularly in terms of local partnership responses to crises?
For further information on the research programme contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Survey link is