Tag Archives: bottom-up policymaking

The implementation of policy in Scotland #POLU9SP

There are two classic ways to describe and try to explain policy implementation: top-down and bottom-up (see also the policy cycle).

top down bottom up

We can focus on these descriptions of policy implementation to make two points relevant to our discussion so far:

  1. You might think that the ‘Scottish policy style’ and ‘Scottish approach’ produce fewer problems of implementation, but they produce different problems.
  2. An ‘implementation gap’ reinforces our sense (in the previous lecture) that there hasn’t been that much policy divergence in Scotland since devolution.

Implementation and the Scottish policy style

Based on our discussions so far, you might think that the Scottish Government would suffer fewer problems of implementation than the UK government because:

  1. Its public sector landscape often appears to be less fragmented.
  2. It is less likely to oversee a ‘top-down’ policy style with unintended consequences (note the potential confusion over the meaning of top-down).
  3. Its greater willingness to consult helps it gather information and secure ‘ownership’.

Yet, I found that it (generally) had different, not fewer, problems. For example, you do not guarantee implementation success by relying on local authorities rather than private or third sector bodies. Further, the Scottish Government may have more ‘external conditions’ to take into account, since its policies often overlap with those of the UK government and it often does not control the success of its own policies.

Or, high levels of consultation can help produce unrealistic strategies and inflated expectations when a government gives the impression that: a policy choice represents radical change; it is the key actor (rather than one of many players in a multi-level system); and, it plans to enforce not delegate and negotiate policy delivery.

The Scottish Approach and bottom-up implementation

Indeed, isn’t the newest incarnation of the ‘Scottish approach’ more of a bottom-up than top-down strategy? In other words, it sets a broad framework based on policy outcomes and asks local authorities and community planning partnerships to produce their own strategies to achieve those outcomes.

Consequently, it may not make sense to try to explain an ‘implementation gap’ because some of the top-down conditions for success do not seem to apply, including: there are no clear/ consistent objectives (at least according to my interpretation of that condition), and there is no requirement for compliant officials.

Policy divergence and the implementation gap

Yet, many Scottish Government policies can be analysed usefully through the lens of an ‘implementation gap’, including:

  • ‘Free personal care’ for older people. This is an important one, because FPC used to symbolise policy divergence after devolution. Yet, it translated into a less-than-expected reduction in care home costs and, for many people (it is hard to know the number) a replacement of one way of securing free care with another (you should make sure you understand how this happened – see Scottish Politics for more detail). There have also been problems with waiting lists for care, and debate about what counts/ doesn’t count as personal care.
  • Housing and homelessness. Over the years, the Scottish Government has promised higher housing standards and lower levels of homelessness but struggled to translate ambitious aims into outcomes (and, it has produced essentially the same strategy on homelessness twice since devolution).
  • Fox hunting. You can still hunt foxes if you want (anyway, would there be many people there to stop you if you tried?) and the unintended consequence of policy is that you might now catch the wrong ones.

If we have the time, we might also discuss modern examples such as the Curriculum for Excellence. We might also wonder why some policies seem to have been implemented successfully (can you think of examples?).

In many of these cases, the promise of policy divergence mixes with implementation problems to produce less divergence than we might have expected if we focused simply on the initial choices. This conclusion reinforces the idea that constitutional change in Scotland does not tend to produce radical policy change or major divergence from UK government policy.

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Can the Scottish Government pursue ‘prevention policy’ without independence?

This appears on the ESRC website too

The Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence, Scotland’s Future, reignited arguments about the adequacy of the devolved settlement. While the Scottish Government argues that it could pursue a wide range of new policies under independence, its critics argue that many of the proposed changes – including an expansion of childcare and a devolved response to the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ – could be done by a devolved government.  The debate exposes uncertainty regarding the limits to devolved powers, particularly when the Scottish Government is addressing ‘cross-cutting’ policy issues which often have reserved and devolved elements.

‘Prevention’ policy is a key example. ‘Prevention’ and ‘preventative spending’ are very broad terms to describe ‘early interventions’ in people’s lives, to address potential social problems before they produce high demand for acute, responsive public services. Examples range from disease inoculation, to public health interventions to change unhealthy behaviour, investment in early years education and welfare, measures to reduce crime reoffending, and measures designed to reduce inequalities associated with deprivation and unemployment. Scotland’s Future also places particular emphasis on the production of prevention policies in local areas by a range of public bodies consulting with non-governmental organisations and the public:

‘Scotland has already adopted a distinctive approach in our public services, focused on improving outcomes and building the assets and resilience of people and communities, through prevention and early intervention. It values collaboration by those involved – by people and communities, Third Sector, public providers and businesses. Our approach crucially recognises the importance of designing services with, and for, the people they are there to serve, and of building on our strengths’ (p359).

In 2011, the Scottish Government’s response to the Christie Commission’s report on prevention demonstrated that a great deal can be done by a devolved government. It listed a range of (over 50) interventions and 2011-16 priorities, including a focus on early years (and poverty) investment, class sizes and curriculum reform, employment training, tobacco, drug and alcohol control, ‘inequalities-targeted health checks’, alternatives to short-term custodial sentences, affordable housing, energy assistance and community-based carbon emissions reduction projects. It also announced three new funds, representing £500m ‘investment in preventative spending’ in older people’s services, early years, and reducing reoffending.

In that context, why might the Scottish Government benefit from further devolution or independence? First, the UK Government decides the size of the Scottish Government’s budget and its borrowing capacity. A Scottish Government in control of its own budget could decide to shift resources from some areas to invest in prevention initiatives (some may have high start-up costs, to be recouped over the long term).

Second, the UK Government controls taxation and social security policy, and its reforms have the potential to disrupt ‘joined up’ public service activity in Scotland. For example, housing policy involves a combination of benefits and services and, for example, the Scottish Government has devoted much political energy to reject the ‘bedroom tax’. Previously, the most frequently discussed example was ‘free personal care’ for older people – one part of which involved the Scottish Government paying local authorities to provide personal care at home, which removed the recipients’ entitlement to a UK benefit, Attendance Allowance. The Scottish Government requested that the savings to HM Treasury be passed back to Scotland, but the request was denied by the Treasury and the matter was never resolved fully. In such cases, the Scottish Government may argue that it has less incentive to produce a ‘joined up’ approach, since its spending and delivery may be undermined by UK rules.

The Scottish Government also argues that some post-independence policies will become self-supporting through greater economic activity. For example, it wants to fund its major investment in childcare by borrowing to invest in facilities and training, then recouping the money in more taxes and fewer benefits as more people go to work.

In some cases, further devolution may be enough to make an impact. For example, the Christie Commission (pp p57-8) called for the devolution of ‘employability’ policy:

‘In the course of our meetings across Scotland it has become clear that the interface between reserved and devolved policies on employability (i.e. job search and support services) has compromised the achievement of positive outcomes. Particular concerns were expressed about a ‘one-size fits all’ approach on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Jobcentre Plus; about the ways in which programmes are contracted out from Whitehall; and about the extent to which DWP and Jobcentre Plus services are coordinated with devolved public services at the local level. We recommend the full devolution of competence for job search and support to the Scottish Parliament to achieve the integration of service provision in the area of employability’.

Scotland’s Future (p108) also talks about the use of ‘employment services … built on the principle of “early intervention” … to prevent individuals from becoming long-term unemployed with all of the associated problems for individuals and for society’.

In other cases, the Scottish Government argument may be that everything is connected; one cannot fully act in one area without the freedom to act in another. For example, to address health, ‘we also need responsibility for our society’s wellbeing and welfare. The solution to ill-health is not in the hands of the NHS alone – it depends on breaking the cycle of poverty, educational underattainment, worklessness, poor mental wellbeing, and, through these, preventable ill-health’ (p136). Similarly, it argues that it cannot ensure joined-up government without being responsible for all government, and so it seeks to ‘streamline the cluttered UK public sector landscape by incorporating the functions of a number of UK public bodies into existing Scottish bodies’ (p361).

The Scottish Government is clearly making a constitutional argument in relation to its policy aims and its policymaking responsibilities. Put simply, the argument is that it can make better policy in a more effective way than its UK counterpart. This is not just about policy choices, but also about how policy is made and delivered even when those choices are not terribly different. This is an argument that deserves debate, since it goes to the heart of all modern discussions of multi-level policymaking and the implications of policy coordination across many levels and types of government.

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Filed under ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change, Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), public policy, Scottish politics