Chapter 4 – Finance
100. In recent years there has been a greater emphasis on engaging with communities to ensure that priorities and concerns are taken on board and addressed in policy and practice. In order to achieve this there is a requirement for resources both in terms of time and money to be available. Staffing resources are discussed in Chapter 5.
101. We were unable to determine a cost for 'Community Engagement' given that there is no system in place to attribute costs in this way. We were advised that there is not a specific cost code for expenditure relating to community engagement and that expenses can be attached to various cost codes within budgets eg one code would be used for purchase of a trophy and another would be used for provision of lunch. As a result there is no method of pulling figures for community engagement expenditure alone.
Impact of the Current Financial Climate:
102. Tighter budgets may have effects on recruitment, funding for work placements, sponsorships, staff being redeployed to core business and communications eg publications, advertisements. If community engagement is not seen as adding value then activities relating to this will be reduced as a way to cutting costs.
103. Managers we spoke to were concerned that in the current economic climate there will need to be a focus on core business and as a result staff may not be able to find the time to be involved in engagement exercises. There are also concerns that this will have an impact on the work that is already done.
104. We consider that in such stringent times there are opportunities to be seized in reducing or sharing costs. Highlands and Islands Area provided us with examples of work already done in this respect, in particular, they work closely with Northern Constabulary and other partners in relation to the biannual community consultation exercise which is used to help inform priorities and strategies. The last exercise was conducted in 2009 through a research company and the costs were split between the partners. The partners involved looked at ways of reducing costs for the 2011 survey and we have since been advised that the Area's contribution has been reduced this year. There will be questionnaires issued to approximately 9,000 households. Argyll and Clyde also contribute to questions in Council Citizen Panels and feedback of results is given to the Fiscal in this respect. A few other Fiscal Areas have considered use of surveys in this way, however, not to any great extent.
105. Another means of reducing costs is to reduce duplication of work. One example, as described in Chapter 3 (a central repository of standard presentations) can save staff time and ultimately money.
106. As stated earlier a quick and easy way to make contact, provide information and obtain feedback from the public is use of social media such as Twitter. This facility is free and taking into account the resources required for its management it may be found to be a cost effective method of engaging with the public.
That given the current economic climate Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service should identify opportunities to reduce costs such as reducing duplication of work, increased partnership working and making use of technology such as information networks or online pop-up surveys.
107. Results of our focus groups showed that there was a general consensus that with tighter budgets and reduced resources that the good relations already in place and engagement activities should not diminish although there is an acceptance that all agencies need to be smarter in how communication takes place eg use of video conference, technology, etc but more importantly there is still a need to be mindful of the different communication needs of different communities.
108. In the current economic climate we consider it important to continue to engage and receive feedback from the public and communities particularly when budgets are tight to ensure that the right services are being delivered efficiently and effectively and at the right time. It is therefore an appropriate time to identify opportunities to reduce costs such as those described above.