The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a report urging councils in Scotland to consider the social and community risks of spending cuts as they continue to face severe financial challenges and look for ways to reduce expenditure.  Researchers spoke to council staff across the country about how risk assessments are carried out, with the intention of developing practical guidance and tools on understanding risk and how to assess it, but found that there was “little appetite” for this as it would add to an already significant bureaucratic burden for a diminishing workforce.  Instead, they found that rather than developing complex tools or integrating social and community risk with existing equality impact assessments, a few simple and challenging questions, asked at the beginning of the decision-making and budget-setting process would suffice.

The report claims that consideration of the impact of spending decisions often takes place after decisions have been made and that democratically elected decision-makers usually have to rely on reports prepared by council officers when making important decisions on if and how budgets should be cut, often without due consideration of the risks involved.

While the authors say that, ideally, councillors would have the knowledge required to input at every stage of budget setting processes, they acknowledge that they are extremely busy and that this might not be realistic for all councils.  They do propose, however, that “at the very least councillors ought to have confidence that the social and community risk impact assessment process has fully explored every option, every possible social and community impact and every possible mitigation.” This is often not the case.

Findings and conclusions include:

  • There are both moral and economic arguments in favour of conducting social and community risk assessments
  • Simple and challenging questions asked at the beginning of processes may be as effective as developing complex tools
  • There is a “fear factor” over concerns that officials may breach the provisions of the Equality Act and this, in turn, impacts on assessment processes
  • Officials require greater empathy and more understanding of the nature of urban and rural poverty
  • Explicit articulation of social and community risks when impact assessing and early consideration of such risks in planning processes, as well as greater leadership, education and the promotion of good practice is required
  • There are opportunities afforded by the integration of health and social care and the forthcoming Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill to promote the integration of community and social risk into impact assessments.

Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation