The SNP have taken control of the administration of Glasgow City Council for the first time in the city’s history. They were elected on a manifesto which committed them to “review Community Planning and make it more effective.”
The question for the Third Sector now is, how can we contribute to this review? How can we help the new administration get Community Planning right?
- So, what is Community Planning?
The idea of Community Planning is that public sector agencies and other relevant bodies, including the third sector, work together to design and deliver better public services. You can read the Scottish Government’s explanation of Community Planning Partnerships online here.
- How does Glasgow engage with Community Planning Partnerships?
Every local authority area has a Third Sector Interface (TSI). A key objective of the TSI is connect the Third Sector to Community Planning.
Glasgow’s TSI is a partnership of GCVS, Glasgow Social Enterprise Network (GSEN), Volunteer Glasgow and the Third Sector Forum. It is the Third Sector Forum, an unincorporated organisation, that is responsible for engaging the third sector with Community Planning.
In Glasgow the Community Planning Partnership (CPP) structure is complex. The main CPP bodies sit at citywide level. Three Sector Partnerships (North East, North West and South) feed into this structure and in turn are fed into by 23 local Area Partnerships, each representing a council ward. Unfortunately, the lines of communication and accountability are blurry within this structure; the Third Sector Forum is responsible for ensuring representation at the citywide level, local Voluntary Sector Networks, (independent organisations covering different geographical areas) are responsible for ensuring representation at the three sector and 23 ward level partnerships.
Clearly a huge amount of third sector resource goes into Community Planning. A rough estimate is that the third sector contributes the equivalent of fifteen weeks of full time work into Community Planning each year – provided by the sector free of charge and not accounting for the work of the Third Sector Forum and Voluntary Sector Networks. It’s important to note that we don’t just ask people to attend meetings; we ask them to prepare for the meetings – often reading documents many pages long, received only a few days in advance which leaves little time for discussion. We ask them to consult with their colleagues – to know about the full range of organisations in their area and understand what the key issues and challenges are. We ask them to feedback – to keep their networks up to date on business … and that’s just the formal Community Planning structures! There are also a number of related initiatives that require third sector engagement e.g. Thriving Places, One Glasgow and the Poverty Leadership Panel, and it’s not clear at all how these agendas link back to the formal Community Planning process.
- So, has all the time and effort put into Community Planning by the Third Sector been worth it?
Some organisations have been able to make a difference to services in their local area through their links to other agencies developed via Community Planning but others report meetings with a rigid agenda of ‘reports’ from various city council departments and the Glasgow ‘family’, little discussion and no real joint work emerging. Public information about Community Planning is very limited. Some third sector organisations who are interested in Community Planning report that they can’t find out what’s going on or how to get involved. Processes are not open and transparent; there is no clear pathway through which organisations can raise issues and put them on the agenda. It’s a pretty big ‘ask’ for small organisations with limited resources to engage effectively with this labyrinth and cumbersome system, but it is often the smallest third sector organisations who have the strongest foothold in and understanding of the communities they serve and so, have much to offer.
Suffice to say our engagement and effort has not been rewarded with access to new resources coming into the city. The city’s funding for the third sector via the Integrated Grand Fund, has stayed static for many, many years with limited access for new entrants to this funding stream.
Our offer to the new administration is that, via the Third Sector Forum, we will consult with the third sector to identify how best we can contribute to Community Planning. We will organise surveys and engagement events to get feedback from those who are currently representing the sector on CPP structures, and from those who want to engage more with the public sector services but can’t find a way in through the current structures.
We need to ask some hard questions of organisations who are engaged on formal structures, particularly around how they report back, engage and represent the wider sector. We have to recognise the diversity of our sector – the difference in capacity of large, national organisations and small frontline, community-based ones. We have to find a way of giving all an equal chance to get involved in service improvement and an equal opportunity for funding and we have to find new ways to use the sector’s skills and local knowledge to support and develop more active, engaged communities. We see clear links between Participatory Budgeting, Community Empowerment and Community Planning, and will work with the city to make these successful.
In return, we will ask the new city administration to understand the diverse and rich nature of the third sector, and to move beyond ‘the usual suspects’ when it comes to engagement. We’ll ask them to rationalise how our local Voluntary Sector Networks are resourced and clarify the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in Community Planning and its offshoots. We will expect that realistic levels of resource will be made available to the TSI and to the sector, to enable us to make an active, meaningful and effective contribution, working on a par with our public sector colleagues.
Community Planning offers the Third Sector a real opportunity to engage with public sector partners and work together in new and exciting ways to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our communities are helped and supported. We need to make it a meaningful process and not just another meeting.