Last week journalists, commentators and communities across the land held their breath for an eagerly anticipated report.

Yes, that’s right the second Audit Scotland Report on Community Planning: “Turning Ambition into Reality”. Naturally I hurriedly read it with a sense of excitement to find a wee bit progress had been made (ok I’ll cut it out with the sarcasm now).

It seems like something more like a “shared enterprise” has emerged. Our network of third sector interfaces (TSIs), tasked as they are with building the third sector relationship with community planning, can point to some really good partnership working with third and statutory sector colleagues. But, a lack of leadership, accountability and clarity is still detected by Audit Scotland. And this has consequences: not enough focus on inequalities and not enough focus on prevention – all at a time when we sorely need both.

A lack of leadership, accountability and clarity is still detected by Audit Scotland. And this has consequences: not enough focus on inequalities and not enough focus on prevention – all at a time when we sorely need both.

In this report I also detect more criticism of the Scottish Government, particularly in relation to a lack of clarity about its expectations for community planning. What does a refocussed approach to community planning mean? In other words: what is it for and how do we know it’s achieving it? Add to the mix the creation of structures elsewhere around health and social care integration, questions about whether community planning is about national priorities or local needs, and shrinking budgets and protectionism and what you end up with is not big change. At its best there’s a shared endeavour but there’s no locus for the big decisions that need to be made in tough times.

Review, re-focus, reform: periodically all these words will get used in relation to community planning. Personally I’ve found it hard to say with any clarity how community planning should be reviewed, reformed or re-focussed. So, Voluntary Action Scotland and members of our network will get together this week with Dr Oliver Escobar of Edinburgh University to shape our view of how community planning should work.

For my part I would agree with Audit Scotland’s recommendations around expectations, assessing progress, data, resources, improvement and the rest. However, much, much more than this, I think we need to see community-driven priorities at the centre. The Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy set out how communities can be put at the centre and it’d make fine reading for community planning partners and perhaps the two new minsters tasked with getting their heads around this.

We’ll keep plugging away at community planning through the work of TSIs and an improvement programme lead by VAS. But make no mistake, reform, review or re-focus – its time to put the community into community planning.

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