On 4 May we get to vote for the local election candidates we want. We might have raised their awareness of our work or asked them what they proposed to do to ensure we get good quality local services in the future. We might even have asked them to sign the #plan4children pledge to encourage them to protect and extend good quality children and families services.

If you think that’s the end of influencing local services – think again. You might have had you say as a voter but do you know that community groups in Scotland have been granted new rights to participate in planning and developing services? If the services provided by public authorities such as the NHS and your local authority are not meeting the needs and getting the best possible outcomes for children and families in your part of Scotland then you now have the power to get involved and change things for the better.

Nothing is perfect but if you have major concerns about the quality and accessibility of services for children and families you can make a difference. For example, are free NHS ante-natal classes being cut so families with no money cannot get as much support as the better off? Do you believe the help that free childcare places for eligible twos is supposed to offer could be better provided in other ways? Are parents and children with mental health problems missing out on timely professional support? Do commissioning processes ignore the community wellbeing impacts of well-supported volunteering when assessing tenders?

Don't accept that things cannot get better. Take these three powerful actions and aim for awesome results:

1. Get smarter about your new rights:

a. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 requires that when a Community Planning Partnership (CPP) prepares a local outcome improvement plan they will need to consult with the local community and third sector organisations. Find out more here: http://www.scdc.org.uk/what/community-empowerment-scotland-act/

b. Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, places a duty on local authorities and Health Boards to develop joint children’s service plans in cooperation with other service providers. That means organisations like Home-Start. Children’s Services Plans must be renewed every three years and there is a requirement that quality and value is achieved through preventative approaches. You can find out more here: http://www.gcvs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Childrens-Services-Planning-guidance-summary-1.pdf 

c. Participation requests are a new tool which builds on community consultation and dialogue between community groups and public authorities to require them to listen when we want to talk about local issues and the way local services are planned and designed. Most local authorities now carry advice on their websites about how to make a participation request. Guidance from the Scottish Government is here: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/engage/ParticipationRequests/ParticipationRequestsGuidance 

2. Get more involved in planning:

Participation requests are like saving for a rainy day. A good back-up which you shouldn’t need to use if you invest in community planning processes right from the start. Many Home-Start teams, other charities and local community groups make good use of a ready-made infrastructure, such as voluntary sector forums, for meaningful consultation between the community sector and public sector in their area. Make sure you know when your forum or equivalent body meets.

If you can't find out what happens at meetings and you cannot attend ask for better reporting out of meetings so you can catch up and take action if necessary. Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) often act as a communications channel between the Community Planning Partnership and the local third sector.

If you are involved with Home-Start or another relevant group and the local TSI is not doing a good job of involving them speak up. The families we support often need us to go that extra mile.

Children's Services Plans have to be renewed every three years and should be focused on securing quality and value through preventative approaches. Find out more here: http://www.gcvs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Childrens-Services-Planning-guidance-summary-1.pdf 

3. Focus on improvement:

Could you re-design or even deliver a service in a way which improves outcomes for children and families? When a community group or Third Sector organisation, such as Home-Start, believes it could help to make an improvement, it can request that the public body takes part in a process to improve that outcome. That can include making a request to start a dialogue about taking over running a service not just saying what you think should be different.

Do we have new rights that will really make a difference to the quality of life for children and families or are they just words on a page? We will only find out if we try to use the new powers to influence service planning.

Go for it and let us know how you get on.

Shelagh Young
April 2017

Shelagh Young is Home-Start UK's director of Scotland