Elected Members Briefing - 31st March

This week marks a year’s worth of Bulletins. An archive can be found on the COSLA website.

Key Messages

A ‘cautious easing of lockdown’ will begin as more services open from April 5.

Enhanced summer offer for all children.

Tackling race inequality in employment.

  • Mini Conference, Convention and Special Leaders
    On Friday (March 26) – Super Friday – Scotland’s Leading Councillors came together as COSLA hosted a virtual mini Conference and Convention followed by a Special Leaders meeting.

    COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison, got the Conference underway by quoting a passage from a book on Local Government from 1945 by W Eric Jackson (above).

    The Conference looked primarily at our recently launched Blueprint. As part of the event, delegates broke into six workshops, based on the themes of the Blueprint –
    * Strengthening Local Democracy
    * Funding Services and Communities
    * Wellbeing – including Health and Social Care
    * Education and Children and Young People
    * Economy and the Environment
    * Supporting Vulnerable Communities

    You can read more about the COSLA Blueprint here, while reports from each of the workshops can be found at the bottom of the Bulletin.

    In his speech to the COSLA mini Conference our Vice President, Councillor Graham Houston, reminded delegates that Local Government in Scotland has a long and a proud history of standing up for those who are perhaps a little less able to stand up for themselves.

    In addition, he said: “This last year we have had the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with and I truly believe that our response on behalf of our communities has been exceptional.

    “In fact the response of Local Government was one of the driving forces behind us launching our Blueprint –our plan for change we feel local government needs - to make an even greater contribution to the communities within Scotland.

    “The Blueprint will allow Local Government to build around an ambitious vision for Scotland’s future - one based on the empowerment of people and communities.”

    The Conference was brought to a close with a message from each of the Party Leaders.

    The March Convention took up the early part of the afternoon and looked at similar issues to the morning Conference such as a paper on the LG Blueprint, approved a report on the Social Renewal Advisory Board, as well as considered papers on COP26 and an update to the COSLA Constitution.

    A Special Leaders Meeting to consider some high-profile policy issues for which political decisions were required rounded off an extremely busy day – but a day that showed the enormous amount of work Local Government does and continues to do as Community Leaders.

    It was particularly pleasing that the membership played a full and active part in making the virtual Conference a success and both Convention and Leaders were once again all about decisions that put Communities first.

    Leaders’ agreement on funding
    At the Special Leaders Meeting on Friday, Leaders agreed distributions for £11.8m of Community Justice Funding to allow pandemic recovery/backlog work, £30.5m additional funding for Adult Social Care Real Living Wage in 2021/22, and £40m of funding for pressures, announced as part of the Finance Order debate on March 18. Councils will have full autonomy over how the £40m is spent, however as yet this has not been baselined for future years. Leaders asked that Councillor Macgregor, COSLA’s Resources Spokesperson, raise this with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, ensuring councils have certainty for next year.

    UK Government Webinar – Levelling Up Fund
    The UK Government hosted a webinar last week to outline the intention of the Levelling Up Fund. The Fund will be UK-wide, supporting local economic recovery across the whole of the UK. COSLA and a number of Councils across Scotland joined the UK wide webinar. A full list of FAQs asked at the webinar will be published on the UK Government website.

    COSLA objective met with Parliament vote
    The UK ratified the European Charter of Local Self Government, which is an international Treaty of the Council of Europe, almost three decades ago.  This international treaty provides a number of safeguards to protect the autonomy of Local Government, in political, organisational and financial terms from excessive influence from other spheres of government.

    The Charter provides a number of legal protections to Local Government, the key ones being as follows:

    * It ensures the right and the ability of Local Authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibility and in the interests of the local population;
    * Local Authorities shall, within the limits of the law, have full discretion to exercise their powers with regard to any matter which is not excluded from their competence nor assigned to any other authority;
    * Local Authorities' financial resources shall be commensurate with the responsibilities provided for by the constitution and the law;
    * Crucially, Local Authorities shall have the right of recourse to a judicial remedy in order to secure free exercise of their powers.

    The Charter has played a vital role in enhancing local democracy all across Europe. It cannot completely prevent national parliaments and governments from  imposing decisions upon local governments but acts as a check against rash decisions and encourages partnership working between local and national spheres of governance.

    COSLA has been urging the UK Government, and since Devolution the Scottish Government and Parliament, to bring the Charter to domestic legislation, so it enters into force. As COSLA has repeatedly said, it is a rare oddity that Scotland, with 600 hundred years of uninterrupted Local Government history, has seemed unable to hold itself to the same standard with which almost all other countries in Europe have no problem.

    For this reason, COSLA welcomed the introduction of the European Charter (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill by Andy Wightman MSP and had made positive submissions, and encouraged others to do the same, over the three years it took the bill to be developed, consulted tabled and negotiated at the Scottish Parliament.
    Constructive parliamentary debates at the earlier stages of the Bill include an evidence session by the COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison.

    The Bill was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament on March 23. This move was welcomed by the COSLA Convention on March 26. The Convention thanked Mr Wightman MSP for his crucial role in this historic achievement. This new piece of legislation will strengthen the voices of our local communities and help to achieve better outcomes with and for them.

    For the first time in Scots Law there is parity of esteem amongst governments and a legal framework that binds them to work together.

    You can read a statement released by Councillor Evison here.

    Social Renewal Advisory Board response
    Following approval at Friday’s Convention, COSLA shared its response to the Social Renewal Advisory Board’s report ‘If not now, when?’ on our website and social media channels.

    The response highlights Local Government’s role during the pandemic and the actions being taken to address the inequalities and challenges facing people and communities, alongside a commitment to progress and adapt as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison, said: “We are committed to working in partnership with the Scottish Government, Third Sector and our people and communities to address the challenges set out by the Social Renewal Advisory Board.”

    Recognising the need to embed the positive and rapid action taken throughout the pandemic and commit to a renewal that meets the needs of our people and communities, Local Government published its Blueprint in September 2020.

    You can read COSLA’s full response here.

    VAWG update
    Delivering Equally Safe Fund Update

    The VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) sector has played a vital role in supporting those most at need during the crisis. Recognising this COSLA and the Scottish Government have agreed changes to the Delivering Equally Safe Fund and application process. These include:

    * The allocation of an additional £5m to this fund annually taking the total funding available to £18m
    * Within this, funding will be secured for frontline specialist services to support their ongoing work, with a minimum of £14m to ensure vital services are protected and maintained
    * The fund will now run for two years (2021/ 22 and 2022/23) with a replacement fund launching in 2023 following a joint strategic review of sustainability funding for frontline services
    * Local Authority applicants can now act as lead applicant on a partnership application, according to local preferences
    * The deadline for applications has been extended to Friday, May 28th.

    Contact Inspiring Scotland if you have any questions about these updates - allison@inspiringscotland.org.uk

    A Collective Leadership Approach to Tackling VAWG
    COSLA and the Improvement Service hosted an online event on 10 December 2020 to explore the collective leadership needed at a local and national level to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) and gender inequality. The report for this event has now been published, along with speaker videos and a highlights video.
    * Read the Learning report
    * Watch the Highlights video

    Trauma informed practice and Violence Against Women and Girls deep dive learning reports
    The Learning Report from the NHS Scotland and the Improvement Service Deep Dive Event on Violence Against Women and Girls has now been published reflecting how adopting a trauma-informed approach will help drive forward improved outcomes as part of Scotland’s roadmap for COVID-19 recovery, renewal, and transformation.

    Domestic Abuse Awareness Raising Tool (DAART) Feedback
    In August 2020, SafeLives launched the free E-Learning as a learning resource  for a broad range of non -VAWG specialist decision makers and service providers, designed to support awareness and understanding of coercive controlling behaviour and to explain the powers contained within the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.

    SafeLives have now launched a survey is aimed at anyone who has accessed DAART in any capacity to enable their better understanding of the impact it is having. It will be open until April 30.

    The myjosbcotland team throughout the pandemic have continued to provide value for all Councils and their customers, and as part of this communication we have brought together some information with some facts about the service over the last 15 months.

    Below is the first in a series of five graphics. You can see the full PDF here.

    Online learning events
    COSLA and Young Scot would like to invite you to a series of online learning events focused on how Young Scot services can enhance Local Authority service provision and support young people.

    These seminars will focus on how Local Authorities are using the Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC) and Young Scot’s services to support inclusive place-based growth, increase wellbeing and reduce child and young person poverty.

    Please join us for the first session on the 14th April which will be focused on Empowerment and Digital Engagement Tools and how they can help you support your local young people.

    Visit the event page for more information and register your spot.  For more information on future events please email meg@cosla.gov.uk.

    Fact Friday
    COSLA has launched a ‘Fact Friday’ social media campaign to highlight the varied range of services provided by Local Government in Scotland.

    A series of animated graphics have been produced and will be shared each Friday via our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

    Business Gateway
    Business Gateway’s National Unit is planning a series of panel webinars to help businesses as they look towards reopening. Each session will feature panellists who can offer guidance and advice on the route map, and answer queries from businesses submitted in advance. The initial three webinars planned are:

    Back to Business: The route map for reopening Scottish businesses
    Reopening the Scottish tourism industry
    Back to Business: Reopening the food and drink sector

    Dates will be confirmed as soon the guidance is issued, and details will be shared here in due course.

    The programme for National Webinars continues and dates for all upcoming webinars are available here.

    Following on from a competitive tender, the supplier for the next series of the national webinars - which will run through to July - is about to be appointed.

    Trading Standards Scotland
    Trading Standards Scotland has published the first in a new series of Scam Share Spotlight PDFs, each of which will shine a spotlight on a particular scam that is frequently reported by Scottish consumers. New PDFs will be published every fortnight and can be viewed online or downloaded and printed off for those who are not online. The first PDF looks at the huge increase in scam emails and texts related to shipping or deliveries during the pandemic, as more consumers have turned to online shopping.

    Write-ups from the Mini Conference
    Theme 1 - Strengthening Local Democracy
    Attendees discussed what has worked well during the pandemic response and involvement in local decision making, such as significant levels of volunteering supported by Council staff.

    The group also considered what is required to build on the opportunities created as a result, and what they would like to see happen now at a local and national level. Areas covered included building trust with Elected Members on Participatory Budgeting; developing a system of support, not control; and ensuring that Council Chambers are more reflective and representative of the communities they work with / for.

    Theme 2 – Funding Services and Communities
    This workshop was chaired by COSLA Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor. Fiscal Empowerment is a key pillar of the Local Governance Review, and Local Government’s view is that being more empowered fiscally is key to improving outcomes for individuals and communities. Discussions centred around the protection of core services, the need for longer term certainty in relation to funding, the establishing of “rules” for core funding e.g. a fixed % of Scottish Government’s budget, income, local taxation, additional tax raising powers and community empowerment. All agreed that the current system of single year funding, with high levels of ring-fencing, does not allow for a long-term strategic focus on outcomes improvement and needs to change, but that the risks created by COVID need to be considered carefully. Officers will use these views to refresh work in this important area.

    Theme 3 – Wellbeing, including Health and Social Care
    Discussion amongst the group included thoughts on the creation of a national care service. Delegates noted profit should not be a consideration when providing support for people requiring social care. The group also spoke about the need for additional investment, with a need for social care to be prioritised as the changes required cannot be achieved sustainably from existing resources.

    The impact that ‘free’ care would have on demand was also discussed. In addition, the group spoke about the set-up of the NHS and IJBs and the governance that would support improvements to the existing landscape.

    Theme 4 – Education and Children and Young People
    The group spoke about the hard work and resilience that Local Authorities and schools had shown to ensure support continued for children and young people over the past year since schools closed.

    There was consensus that our long standing priorities had if anything become more relevant, that we should strive for excellence for all, tackle the attainment gap, focus on GIRFEC and ensure that we take collaborative, multi-agency approaches to supporting children and their families.

    Specifically, it was highlighted that we need to integrate - not silo - our approach to tackling poverty locally with work to tackle the attainment gap.
    Concerns were raised of the language that we hear too often around ‘lost learning’ and ‘catch up plans’.

    The extraordinary contribution of the workforce was also emphasised, and there was a clear priority that we provide as much support as possible.
    Partnership working with all stakeholders was highlighted as the way that we can continue to drive improvement across the system.

    Theme 5 – Economy and the Environment
    This workshop focused on the theme of a Just Transition to net-zero economy and society.

    Jim Skea, professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College London, gave an overview of the Scottish Just Transition Commission’s report, outlining some of its key recommendations.

    He highlighted the need for an orderly and managed transition to net zero and  talked through recommendations for and of relevance to Scottish Local Government – including the need to implement Green Participatory Budgeting.

    A discussion followed Prof Skea’s presentation, with questions ranging from the shift away from oil and gas to the role of land use partnerships and agriculture.

    George Tarvit, director of the Sustainable Scotland Network, also joined the session – and stressed the key role that Councillors have in ensuring that the low carbon agenda is at the heart of local decision-making.

    Theme 6 - Supporting Vulnerable Communities
    This workshop explored the importance of a human rights-based approach, especially in the context of the COVID pandemic and recovery and renewal planning.

    Kavita Chetty, Head of Strategy & Legal at the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and Mhairi Snowden, Co-ordinator of Human Rights Consortium Scotland, spoke about the work of the National Human Rights Taskforce and the future of human rights-based approaches in Scotland.
    Discussions included on the restriction of movement as a result of lockdown, limited access to public services and food banks, impact on ability to worship, impact on Gypsy / Traveller communities, impact on minority communities and children’s rights to play being limited during lockdown.

The Local Government workforce and partners across sectors are working hard to support our communities.

We continue to highlight this across our social media channels using #CouncilsCan - retweets and follows would be greatly appreciated.

Our Twitter and Facebook channels, Khub and website will be regularly updated.

If you or your officers require any clarity from COSLA officers on policy matters, please contact the team in the usual way. If you are not sure who to direct your email to, please contact COSLA member support.

Thank you all for your efforts during this challenging time.

Other Useful Links
* The current number of COVID-19 cases and the risk level can be found on the Scottish Government website
* NHS Inform’s webpage continues to be the source of up-to-date public health information
* All Scottish Government COVID-19 related guidance
* Help and support for those experiencing domestic abuse is available; and the helpline number is 0800 027 1234.