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Delay over criminal justice social work funding sparks stooshie between Scottish Government and COSLA

Delay over criminal justice social work funding sparks stooshie between Scottish Government and COSLA

Buck-passing: the practice of shifting responsibility for something to someone else. A rather apt description when it comes to a delay in the allocation of funding for criminal justice social work services.

By way of background, criminal justice social work services are funded via a ring-fenced grant from the Scottish Government. Details of this section 27 funding are set out to the eight community justice authorities before the start of each financial year with CJAs then responsible for divvying up the grant across local authorities in their area. 

That process of informing CJAs of their ring-fenced funding allocations for the next financial year - allowing them to work with local authorities to figure out how best to fulfil their statutory obligations and to reduce reoffending - usually takes place by February at the latest, though in recent years it has typically been December. 

The 2016-17 financial year is an altogether different matter. With the UK Government’s spending review not taking place until November, initial details of Scottish public spending plans were not even announced until December - three months after is usually the case.

“In light of this we wrote to community justice authorities last year to give as much notice as possible that the announcement of grant allocations would be later than anticipated,” a Scottish Government spokeswoman said last Wednesday.

“A letter was issued last week covering the reasons for the delay and giving an updated timetable for funding being issued.”

However, Holyrood understands that CJAs were initially briefed that they could expect clarity on their section 27 grant allocations by the end of January. The second letter, according to Holyrood sources, only came about after CJAs heard by chance that this would be delayed till April rather than receiving formal word from St Andrew’s House. 

“It does seem to be cock-up rather than conspiracy,” says one CJA source. It’s this which has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many in community justice who feel a failure to keep them in the loop smacked of disrespect.

Cue a press release last week from Councillor Margaret Kennedy, convener of Fife and Forth Valley community justice authority, expressing board members’ “frustration and concern at the unacceptable delay” in the Scottish Government allocation of funding for 2016-17.

“The impact of this delay was acknowledged [by board members], with the uncertainty of funding levels leading to disruption of services, temporary contracts being terminated across Fife and Forth Valley Criminal Justice Social Work Services and the third sector, such as Sacro,” she said following a meeting of the board. According to papers lodged in advance, three temporary staff contracts had already been terminated in Fife as a result of the delays.

Councillors on the board made a commitment to “sustaining services for the next three months at existing levels” to “ensure continuity of services and offer some reassurance to criminal justice social work staff”, added Kennedy, thereby easing fears of further job losses.

Back to the buck-passing. Allocations need to be signed off by the Settlement and Distribution Group (SDG), which includes representatives from the Scottish Government and COSLA

“We recognise the issues this [delay] causes for local authorities in approving funding allocations for next year, and in making staffing decisions, and we continue to work jointly with COSLA on the Settlement and Distribution Group to determine allocations of the ring-fenced Section 27 funding for 2016/17,” the Scottish Government spokeswoman added.   

“However, COSLA took the decision to delay discussions on funding allocations until a later meeting, on March 22. Once the outcome of those discussions is known, we would aim to inform local authorities of their indicative allocations ahead of formal approval by COSLA leaders at its meeting on 1 April.” 

That is not how the local government umbrella body characterises it. “COSLA did not take a decision to delay discussions,” a spokesman told Holyrood. “Scottish Government officials missed the deadlines for reports which meant we had to delay the discussions to fit in with the governance arrangements which sit around the joint SDG group.” 

Buck-passing at its best. “It’s just a mess,” says another CJA source. It doesn’t exactly bode well as the clock ticks down to the disestablishment of community justice authorities in 12 months’ time.

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