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Keeping pace

Keeping pace

“Scotland is set upon the most radical reform of its criminal justice system for more than a generation,” so stated the then Minister for Justice, Cathy Jamieson, in the ministerial foreword to the Scottish Executive’s Criminal Justice Plan. Next month, a decade on from Jamieson unveiling that sweeping shake-up of the community justice landscape, the government is expected to spell out yet another ‘radical reform’.

This time, Scotland’s eight Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) – launched only in 2006 – are to be abandoned, with Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) handed responsibility for the planning and delivery of community justice. Just ten years ago, CJAs were considered a fudge after proposals for a Correctional Agency had to be shelved. The latest overhaul could well risk being seen in the same light.    

A Community Justice CPP transitions working group has been established with input from government, COSLA, CJAs, CPPs as well as the third sector. CJAs have offered to produce a transition pack and deliver a range of workshops for CPPs on what their new duties will specifically entail beyond vague talk at present of publishing a local plan and an annual report on performance in their area. Which, of course, raises the question of resources. “Any assumption that the cost of local partnerships is absorbable through the current duty of and activity around CPPs would be disputed and unacceptable to local government,” said a submission to the latest consultation on changes entered by COSLA.

Indeed, CPP managers have raised serious concerns over their capacity to take on proposed new duties and urged the Scottish Government to promise extra resources. “There hasn’t been any specific assurances [on resourcing] apart from the fact that the Scottish Government has noted those concerns and would take them into account when it was developing the final proposals,” Tim Kendrick, chair of the Community Planning Managers Network, told Holyrood.

While CPPs have a real willingness to make the new arrangements work, concerns still linger around the role of the new national body – to be known as Community Justice Improvement Scotland (CJIS) under current proposals, though likely to be renamed – added Kendrick. “There were concerns that that didn’t become a monitoring and scrutiny body, that it was more about providing advice and support for local CPPs,” he said. “If it did have a role in terms of monitoring reports and monitoring plans and also in terms of determining how the budgets were allocated across Scotland, again, that would be different from the arrangements for other parts of community planning.”

Though the Scottish Government has sought to reassure partners that CJIS will be small in size – around 20 full-time equivalent posts have been mooted – and will have a light touch in its approach, fears have been raised that foundations may be laid for a larger more powerful body further down the line. “The government are continuing to support community planning as the mechanism for local planning so it makes no sense to disconnect from that, but the national body can’t then have all this authority over CPPs because that’s not how CPPs work,” said Justina Murray, chief officer of South West Scotland CJA. “I think that’s going to lead to a lot of potential conflict or confusion and it will just distract from what people should be getting on with, which is actually reducing reoffending.”

For all intents and purposes, the pace of this process has slowed quite considerably in the last few months. This has caused a fair degree of frustration among those working in this area, with staff who work within the current eight CJAs left in limbo as to what arrangements, if any, will be made to move the current workforce into a new structure or if redundancies are envisaged. “All credit to the staff that actually, there has not been a huge turnover,” added Murray. “People are still working hard, everyone is really committed still, and people are engaging very positively in how we can help CPPs take on the agenda. Our worst fear is that all of the work that CJAs have done will just die away. What we really need to make sure is that the momentum is maintained, [that] the ambition is maintained and that we hand over thriving, lively partnerships to CPPs.”

A meeting between Scottish Government officials and all CJA staff is scheduled for 11 December, where clarity has been promised. However, one source raised concerns that, should a government response not be shared by the end of this month, the next round of quarterly CJA board meetings in December will be unable to consider its contents, raising the prospect that further scrutiny might not take place till March. “The responses to the consultation on the future model for community justice were due to be published in early October and are now available online,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman. “A publication date for the Scottish Government response to the consultation has not been officially announced, however, this is likely to be later this year. It has not been subject to any delay.”

While, indeed, government has not publicly laid out a timetable, several sources told Holyrood that the process is running some three months behind the original intention. “It is very disappointing that we are not further forward,” added Murray, who will deliver a keynote address at the Scottish Association for the Study of Offending conference later this week focusing on a new project that sees professionals go out and talk with community groups about justice issues. “It also seems to be a bit of a moving feast as to when we’re going to get the government’s response. Originally, we were told September. Then it emerged that, well, actually, what we’d get in September was the publication of everyone else’s responses to the consultation. Then it was the government would respond after the referendum. Then at the start of November. And now we’re hearing by the end of the calendar year.” Interestingly, the Scottish Government’s deputy director for community justice, Andy Bruce, will address the same conference the following morning.

Reasons why the timetable has seemingly slipped are harder to discern, though sources mooted personnel changes within government as well as the scale of anxiety to emerge over certain aspects of current consultation proposals. “We had Angiolini [who called for CJAs to be abolished] in April 2012 and then the government’s first consultation paper in December 2012,” said Murray. “And here we are, nearly two years later, still waiting to find out the detail.” One thing is for sure: the clock is now ticking if the new model for community justice in Scotland is to be implemented by April 2016.

Read the most recent article written by Alan Robertson - Time for Michael Matheson to live up to his motto of ‘smart on crime’

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