Cuts might have short-term financial benefits, but negative impacts may take longer to be revealed.
That’s the finding of a new study published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Assessing the Social and Community Risks of Spending Cuts in Scotland’.
They highlight that councils in Scotland continue to face severe challenges and hard choices in reducing expenditure on services in line with UK public spending cuts. They explore how councils in Scotland can adequately consider social and community risks when making austerity cuts to services and identify barriers to better risk assessment and how to overcome these.
Given the current focus on health and care integration, they also consider opportunities to promote impact assessment through new policies on joint working in health and social care, and community planning partnerships.
As UNISON has pointed out many times, impact assessments are not being used properly. The report states: “Many interviewees admitted that impact assessments were often done after a decision was taken, almost as a ‘loose end’ to be tidied up.”
Key findings include:
- Not all potential impacts and opportunities will be captured unless they are explicitly articulated as ‘social and community risks’ and considered early as part of the planning process and linked clearly to creative risk mitigation.
- There is some momentum towards expanding the scope of impact assessments but there is a need for greater leadership, education and the promotion of good practice examples.
- Offsetting cuts with some investment in reconfigured (and even improved) services can mitigate risks and help support hard decisions about cuts.
- Simple, challenging questions early in the planning process may be better than producing new extensive guidance.