Glasgow Caledonian University Researchers are studying ways local authorities can reduce austerity risks to vulnerable people

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Local authorities across the UK face tough choices as a result of austerity measures imposed by central government. To achieve significant costs savings these organisations are being forced to ‘reconfigure’ public services.

A team from Glasgow Caledonian University is investigating the criteria, frameworks and priorities used by Scottish authorities to deal with public sector cuts. The researchers say authorities in Scotland must become much more innovative if they are to protect the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. They identified five key areas where local authorities need to develop their approach to risk management.

1. More innovation needed

The researchers found some limited evidence of shifting approaches to service delivery. These indicated a gradual move from a traditional bureaucracy to an organisation exhibiting innovation, albeit at early stages. But innovation was limited.

2. New risk mitigation tools

One local authority had adopted an equality impact assessment (EIA) procedure as its prime risk mitigation tool. Yet criteria were restricted to specific groups (such as disabled people or women) and the EIA failed to consider the wider implications of austerity and social risks for other groups. There was no evidence that the authority had developed new risk mitigation tools.

3. Extend risk management focus beyond compliance

The local authority appeared to be engaged in a traditional regulatory approach to risk mitigation (focusing on statutory duties) rather than focusing on moral obligations and human rights. As a result, rather than mitigating risks to service users (the public), the local authority mitigates its own risk of non-compliance with statutory duties.

4. Local authorities must focus on the needs of users

Local authorities must move from a ‘service-based’ to ‘needs-based’ approach in decision making and risk mitigation and need to be more proactive, innovative and adopt an integrated risk-based model in service reconfiguration.

Claire McCann is a researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University