Category Archives: Scotland

From ‘ivory tower’ to engagement: : strengthening links between universities and local authorities on carbon emission reduction

Posted by Dr Rehema White, Academic in Sustainable Development, School of Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews

Reflections on an ESRC/SFC/LARCI funded project with a programme to strengthen links between universities and local authorities

Our project, Enhancing Local authorities Community Engagement: Co-designing& Prototyping Strategies for Carbon Emission Reduction, was partly supported by Fife Council. It was awarded a grant within the Engaging Scottish Local Authorities Programme, funded jointly by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the then Local Authorities and Research Councils’ Initiative (LARCI). The goals of the programme were to establish better relationships between Universities and Local Authorities and to promote applied and topical research in Scotland.

In order to minimise the impacts of climate change, Scotland has ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, and, of course, local authorities have responsibilities to help meet these targets. The aim of this project was for Fife Council and academics from the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee to develop together a strategy for local authorities to engage local communities in reduction of their carbon footprints. Existing information was collated and synthesised. Seminars on Energy, Transport, Food and Community brought together local people, local authority staff, academics and NGO representatives to highlight successful community projects and explore how local authorities could more effectively help local people (for example, through strategic planning for community renewables, providing a single contact person, jointly identifying priorities). Workshops, meetings, interviews and attendance at other events further informed the research. We co-designed a Community Engagement for Carbon Emission Reduction (CECER) Strategy for Fife Council and disseminated findings across other local authorities, partly with the assistance of Sustainable Scotland Network. The six key areas were:

(1) Local authorities shifting more from service provision towards community support

(2) Building community resilience

(3) Creating infrastructure and processes to help community action

(4) Supporting poorer communities

(5) Strategically altering budget distributions because of financial constraints and investment potential in renewables

(6) Raising awareness through seeing the local authority itself as a community of interest

It was concluded that local authorities can strengthen networks and communication, especially with successful communities in their area. Despite the different cultures between local authorities and communities, in both, key individuals played important leadership roles. A shift from “service provision” to “community enabling” will help local authorities mobilise the potential of communities to respond to climate change and other sustainability challenges.

What was it like to ‘step down from the ivory tower?’ Well, many academics are now actively engaged in practical activities. I had sat on the Fife Environmental Partnership for 3 years prior to this project. Certainly pre-existing as well as carefully nurtured trust, relationships and understanding assisted us in working together. We also found that real partnership across HEIs and local authorities was facilitated by recognition of the excellence and values of each institution. We respected our differences! As academics, we were impressed by the management efficiencies of local government processes; our initial theoretical attempts at strategies required action plans and SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bounded) targets. We had to learn to change our language and not assume knowledge of literature or acronyms. We had to work to different timescales. Whilst we often wanted to promote longterm learning and work towards longterm goals, local authorities needed to engage in the short term, often in response to policy initiatives and procedural deadlines.  Our project benefited from a complex but inclusive and effective governance approach. Finally, we learnt that we would not get far without buy in from senior managers. It was challenging but interesting work, and I recommend that you try to involve academics from your neighbourhood university in what you do. Not only might you learn new ways of thinking, you might inspire locally relevant research to help you make more informed decisions.

Research and evidence-based policy making will be a key theme of the SOLACE Summit in Coventry on October 16-18th 2012. It will include a workstream that will cover why evidence is important to local authorities, applying evidence in the real world and using evidence to generate savings and better outcomes.  More information and details of how to book are available here.

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Filed under Carbon reduction, Research, Scotland

Change for the better: David Martin’s reflections on SOLACE Scotland Conference 2012

Change for the Better

Held three weeks after the Scottish local government elections, this year’s SOLACE (Scotland) Conference – Change for the Better – took place against a radically different political landscape: 30% of Elected Members were elected to office for the first time and there have been numerous changes of administrations across the country, with some interesting coalitions formed. But while the landscape may be different, many of the challenges remain the same, and this year’s conference therefore explored what local government can and should be doing to build a better Scotland.

Local authorities were challenged, in particular, to raise the bar in promoting economic growth. Peter Grant of the Entrepreneurial Exchange called for the public sector to become a champion for business, to listen to business and to ensure that rules are business friendly.  George Black, Chief Executive of Glasgow City Council, asked whether local authorities were being strategic enough in their approach to jobs and the economy: should, for example, local authorities be looking to target the pension funds they hold for local investment? Likewise, given the projected rise in demand for social care, shouldn’t SOLACE take the lead in developing a national strategy for training the future social care workforce?

Delegates were also challenged to raise the bar by Sir Harry Burns, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, who asked ‘Why don’t we aim to close young offenders’ institutions?’ Challenging the preconceived notion that Scotland is an inherently sick nation, he outlined the connection between the loss of employment that Scotland suffered in the 1970s and the emergence of its poor health record. A comprehensible, manageable environment is essential for good health, he argued, because if individuals do not feel they are in control of the world around them, they experience chronic stress. To improve health outcomes, the challenge is therefore to give people control over their lives and to increase social connectedness in communities that are alienated. The correct public sector approach, he argued, is to co-produce.

But what should local authorities do to help people become more connected?One key theme that emerged was the importance of Chief Executives creating an organisational culture in which staff feel genuinely empowered to do different things and to do things differently. Senior managers must create an environment in which staff are supported and equipped with the skills they need, and are not reluctant to try new things for fear of failure.

While delegates were reminded of the important and often innovative work that local government does every day in building a better Scotland, it is clear that more remains to be done.To raise the bar, local authorities need to think more strategically,engage better with business and make better use of evidence-based practice. More importantly, though, it is not enough for local government to take action in isolation. Imposing initiatives on communities is not the way forward. Rather, it is for councils and partner organisations to work with communities, to enable them to produce their own solutions. Only in this way can Scottish local authorities and communities change together for the better.

David Martin

Chair, SOLACE (Scotland)

These, and other challenges facing local public services will be the focus of discussions at the SOLACE Summit in Coventry on 16-18th October. More information and details of how to book are available here.

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Filed under Childrens Social Care, Education, Housing, Local Government finance, Scotland