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July 1, 2009

How well does the public sector serve your organisation?

We asked this question of LPL supporters some weeks ago through an online survey. Many thanks to all who responded. The findings offer a revealing snapshot of how some in our sector describe their relationship with local councils and other public bodies. Clearly all is not well in this relationship but neither is it all gloom and doom. It would be interesting to revisit this survey when we are a couple of years into the next public spending regime

Research Summary

Local People Leading asked EKOS to help to gauge the views of supporters on how well local public bodies are serving the community and voluntary sector in Scotland.

We received a total of 73 responses by way of an online survey. The responses came from community groups, voluntary organisations, and social enterprises across Scotland.

The survey provided a revealing snapshot of the ambitions and progress of organisations, their relationships with local public bodies, and their ability to work with the public sector to make a difference locally.

The survey highlighted a number of main findings:

• Organisations are generally very ambitious to bring about change for their community. Their focus is on enabling more people to get involved in local decision-making, to introduce or extend local service provision, and to influence the way that public services are delivered.

• Organisations are generally positive about their recent progress. Almost three-quarters of survey respondents (71%) felt that they had been fairly successful or very successful in progressing their ambitions over the last 12 months.

• However, a number of main challenges have impacted on the recent success of organisations. These challenges relate largely to the changing public sector landscape in Scotland and the accompanying uncertainty, reduction in funding levels, new demands, and resource constraints that are arising for the sector.

• Despite these changes and challenges, organisations still remain generally optimistic about their future prospects. Almost three-quarters of survey respondents (74%) were very or fairly confident that they will be successful in progressing their ambitions over the next 12 months.

• Organisations are generally close to or rely on the public sector in a variety of ways. All of the organisations that responded to the survey had direct dealings, to a lesser or greater extent, with local statutory bodies.

• While generally knowledgeable about local public policy priorities, structures, and procedures, there are some important gaps in the sector’s understanding. There was notably less familiarity reported in relation to: opportunities to get involved in Community Planning processes; the way in which public service contracts are awarded; and the local priorities now being set out in Single Outcome Agreements.

• Significant concerns have been expressed by organisations in relation to their dealings with local public bodies. In particular respondents highlighted: an inability to secure long-term funding; the limited availability of capacity building assistance locally; and the inability to fully recover overhead costs from public contracts.

• Concerns have also been expressed regarding the influence of the community and voluntary sector in public decision-making. Less than one-quarter of respondents (22%) reported satisfaction with their ability to influence the decisions of public bodies.

• Some concerns were also expressed about the attitudes and behaviours of local public bodies. These concerns related largely to the willingness of public bodies to consult with or involve the sector in the policy-making process or to act fully on the views of the sector.

• On a positive note, relationships do generally appear to be improving. In two-in-every-five cases (39%) respondents indicated that their relationship with local public bodies had been getting better or much better during the last 12 months.

• However, in many cases the reported relationship with public bodies has not been changing (in 41% of cases) or has been deteriorating (in 20% of cases), with suggestions of increasing control and influence being exerted by public bodies (to the detriment of the sector).

• Overall, the survey feedback suggests that the public sector is having a slightly more positive than negative influence on the success of organisations. In 31% of cases this influence was characterised as positive or very positive and in 24% of cases it was deemed negative or very negative (45% of respondents suggested that the influence was neither positive nor negative).

• Where public bodies are having a positive influence, they are reportedly improving dialogue with the sector, recognising and accepting its contribution, collaborating where possible around shared goals, and actively supporting the sector to develop and expand its role in service delivery.

• On the other hand, where public bodies are exerting a negative influence on the sector, there has been a reported absence of communication, a failure to understand and recognise the contribution of the sector, an unwillingness to jointly plan and deliver services, and a failure to meaningfully support and empower the sector.

• Respondents provided many helpful suggestions on ways that public bodies could do more to improve their relationship with, and influence on the sector. For many, real change could only be achieved through improved dialogue, greater clarity on the desired role and contribution of the sector, and a genuine willingness to work with and through the sector to realise shared goals.