We are about to enter a brave new world in relation to local governn ment funding with the introduction of Local Outcome Agreements (LOAs). An LOA changes the way in which money is released to Local Authorities by the Scottish Government and has the potential to radically shift the way in which we do our business.
Up to this point in time the focus has been on inputs to the system and linking money to particular national initiatives. For example in education we would receive money for developments such as Healthy Eating, or Study Support. This money was “ring-fenced” i.e. it had to be spent in these areas and as long as it went to that budget heading the government were happy (within reason).
The idea behind Local Outcome Agreements is that funding is less tightly connected to particular initiatives leaving the local authority with more flexibility to meet local needs and circumstances. What will be specified will be the outcome that the authority agree to focus upon, e.g to raise the academic attainment for the lowest attaining 20% – how this is achieved will be up the authority with less interference from national governement – or so the theory goes.
The following is essentially a worked example. An LOA includes three elements – Outcomes; Outputs and Baselines. The examples included:
• outcomes such as ‘a reduction in the number of crimes committed by ..% from x to y
• outputs such as ‘deployment of .. neighbourhood wardens in A, B and C’ and
• baseline ‘The number of crimes committed in 2006 was x in AA community. The
target is to reduce the number of crimes by 5% to x-5% in AA by 2007/08. Source:
police/local crime surveys’.
The report sets out the following advantages and disadvantages of Local Outcome Agreements:
• Local ownership – priorities are set by partners and communities to reflect local
issues within a broad national framework.
• The shift in policy focus to outcomes and impacts – the LOA format makes partners
think about impact rather than just delivery and challenges them to consider what
approach to delivery is the most appropriate.
• Flexibility – the emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs allows partners flexibility
in programme delivery – a positive feature, particularly from the standpoint of
community involvement as the services and projects are not pre-determined.
• Clarity – LOAs provide a clear statement of priorities and aims.
• Accountability – there is a transparency about LOA partners and what they aim to
achieve. This allows the LOA to act as a reference document for the public and other
• Partnership – the general view was that the process of drawing up a LOA had helped
to engage community planning partners.
• Evidence – emphasis on outcomes means that LOAs have the potential to provide inbuilt
monitoring and evaluation and thus provide an evidence base for future policy
• The challenge of programme design – designing a programme with appropriate
performance indicators, in consultation with local people, is challenging.
• Consultation issues – for some Pathfinders the level of community consultation
involved in LOAs was excessive while for others not enough time had been allowed.
• Time limited – despite the greater flexibility of payment through Revenue Support
Grant (RSG), LOAs are still constrained by the difficulties of a time limited programme e.g. the difficulty of attracting and retaining staff for a temporary initiative.
• Conflict – for a few Pathfinders the use of LOAs led to a deterioration of their
relationship with the Executive. Other Councils felt that the Executive had been
flexible and understanding.
Education perhaps faces the greatest challenge in this new system as we had a large number of ring-fenced funding streams whcih went directly to support educational services in the authority. These funds will no longer be protected and it will be up to local authorities to prioritise where their money is spent – which of course means that there would be no guarantee that what previously came to education will necessarily come to them in the future.
On the up side we can have more flexibility to focus on outcomes as opposed to having to “do” things a certain way. It would seem logical that this model is cascaded out to schools , where the school development plan would form a a Local Outcome Agreement with the authority with schools being much more at liberty to decide how they achieve that outcome. Of course the challenge would remain to try to keep some consistency between schools, although I think I would be happy enough to see consistency between schools wiythin a particular cluster.
The concern for schools will be the ability to becnhmark between authorties will become nigh impossible as they each identify separate agreements with the government based on local needs.
We’ll be getting more information over the next few weeks and I will endeavour to update this log as means of trying to make sense of it for myself.
A brave new world indeed!