Priority 1 - Empower communities to lead
Community: a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage
We believe it is communities themselves - whether they are geographical communities or communities of interest - that are best placed to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to connect, and people who may be at risk of becoming lonely or isolated have access to support networks. That's why we want to empower communities to lead in this area.
Community empowerment and public service reform
We're already working to ensure that communities can make a difference on their own terms. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 gives communities more opportunities here, and by creating new rights for community bodies and placing new duties on public authorities, the Act strengthens the voices of communities in the decisions that matter to them and makes it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings.
Amongst other things, the Act provides a mechanism for community organisations to seek dialogue with public service providers when they feel they can help to improve outcomes. We want to do more though. The recent Programme for Government clearly sets out our ambitions for creating truly meaningful local decision making through the decentralisation of power: we have already taken steps to achieve this through the launch of our comprehensive review of local governance, and the planned introduction of a Local Democracy Bill later in this Parliamentary term.
Actions to improve health and wellbeing, the lived and built environment and accessibility to transport demonstrate the importance of a relational, person centred approach that tackles the root causes of poor outcomes like social isolation and loneliness. This kind of approach is crucial if we are to improve wellbeing and life chances for people across Scotland and successfully contribute to the delivery of national outcomes.
The Scottish Government's Public Service Reform agenda applies this approach across public services generally. It is one of our key strategic drivers for policy development and delivery, with the core aim of delivering improved outcomes, both nationally and locally by targeting the specific needs and aspirations of communities.
This agenda challenges Scotland's public services to work together creatively in conjunction with community, third sector and private sector partners, so that our collective resources best meet people's needs, with a focus on prevention, performance, people and partnership.
We focus on prevention in order to ensure that as many of our citizens are able to enjoy happy and healthy lives with a lessening need on crisis interventions. We focus on performance to emphasise the need for continual improvement and to remind us all that we can and should do better. We focus on people in order to create conditions where our communities are genuinely empowered, where people and communities are able to co-produce services around their needs and are supported to utilise their assets, skills and networks. We focus on partnership in order to emphasise that success is dependent on a range of organisations working collaboratively together, and with communities, to deliver the outcomes that will make a difference.
Building cohesive communities
We know that building cohesive, resilient and supportive communities requires strong social networks. Communities, and the people within them, need to be protected and feel safe; they need to have strong networks; there must be good access to appropriate community facilities and places to meet; towns and high streets act as a focal point for social and economic interactions, and communities need to be fair and inclusive, where everyone has a voice and can participate. That's why we are working to promote inclusive growth, champion community participation and ownership, ensure stability and flexibility of funding for third sector organisations, and support integrated working through community planning partnerships.
We've already invested significant resources in local community based projects. Our £500,000 Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund (2016-17)  supported a wide variety of local initiatives across Scotland, ranging from basic life skills to creative activities, friendship groups and support for vulnerable communities. The projects that received grants from this fund demonstrated that small grassroots projects located within communities can have a profoundly positive impact on people's lives.
Other funding streams also support work to build social connections, including the Promoting Equality and Cohesion Fund  , the People and Communities Fund  and the Community Choices Fund  . But this is about more than just money. Especially in a challenging financial climate, we have to ensure we work closely with the range of independent funders operating in Scotland to focus on what works whilst avoiding duplication, as well as making funding more accessible to smaller organisations with a greater emphasis on promoting the sustainability of funded projects.
Question 7: Are you aware of any good practice in a local community to build social connections that you want to tell us about?