External Review of Alcohol Focus Scotland

The review was part of a rolling programme of reviews of voluntary sector agencies that receive more than £100k / year in grant funding from the Scottish Government. The main aim was to assess whether the Scottish Government is receiving value for money in relation to the grant it provides to AFS.

3 AFS's contribution to the delivery of the Framework for Action

3.1 There was clear evidence from the documentary analysis and from interviews with stakeholders that AFS has made a positive and significant contribution to Scottish Government policy on tackling alcohol over-consumption.

Vision and leadership

3.2 AFS has demonstrated vision and tenacity in moving the 'alcohol problem' debate on from binge and dependent drinking to show the impact of over-consumption across the whole population of Scotland. Interviewees highlighted in particular, AFS's role in:

  • gathering and disseminating evidence, including evidence from experts, to support minimum unit pricing
  • gaining sometimes hard-won professional and political support for minimum unit pricing
  • withstanding attempts by the alcohol industry to challenge the position championed by AFS on a 'whole population' approach
  • developing tools and training for local licensing boards and forums in relation to the public health objective in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.

3.3 It was also noted that AFS was included in discussions that led to the development of the Scottish Government's Framework for Action and continues to have a role in policy workstreams and generating evidence to support policy implementation.

3.4 There is a good fit between AFS's current strategic priorities and the Scottish Government's priorities as set out in the Framework for Action. Moreover, AFS has employed logic modeling to illustrate how its strategic priorities and activities will contribute to the delivery of national outcomes. The step-change within AFS on the underpinning of activity with an outcomes focus was widely attributed to the new chief executive and regarded as a positive measure of her leadership. One Scottish Government interviewee commented: "It has been a pretty radical and positive change from where I'm sitting."

Effective partnerships

3.5 AFS works in partnership with a range of agencies, and its overall experience of partnership working will be discussed in the following section. However, in relation to supporting the delivery of the Scottish Government's Framework for Action, the collaboration most commonly mentioned in interviews was that between AFS and SHAAP.

3.6 AFS and SHAAP have worked together to gather and disseminate evidence to support minimum unit pricing. In addition, they have collaborated on two substantial publications related to licensing: Licensing for public health (2009)3 and Re-thinking alcohol licensing (2011).4 The latter report includes a series of evidence-based recommendations to licensing boards and to the Scottish Government that they believe would, if implemented, lead to more effective controls on alcohol licensing.

3.7 The two organisations were perceived, from within their own management and by observers, to have a proven track record of effective collaboration which capitalizes on their respective strengths. For example, in relation to the two licensing reports, SHAAP contributed the research skills and the expertise of the medical community (particularly public health researchers and consultants), while AFS contributed a knowledge of a wider range of issues related to alcohol, and the means to deliver the reports' messages to licensing boards and forums.

Governance and accountability

3.8 There is no formal contract or service level agreement between the Scottish Government and AFS which sets out clearly what the Scottish Government expects of AFS in exchange for the grant funding it receives.

3.9 AFS submits progress reports to the Scottish Government every six months and annual forward plans. As part of this review, copies of the progress reports were examined for the period April 2008-March 2011. It was clear that the form and content of the reports improved significantly from October 2010.

3.10 Prior to October 2010, poorly-presented reports listed activities without reference to value for money. Some effort was made to include "outcomes" evidence from the evaluation of training activities, but this was largely at the level of participant reaction to the training. That said, the reports did highlight larger scale evaluation activity going on within the organisation in relation to specific projects (for example, an evaluation of the use of the Rory and Oh Lila learning resources, the evaluation of the Blackburn community project, etc.).

3.11 From October 2010 onwards, progress reports have been shorter and sharper, and are structured according to the organisation's three core functions (e.g. the report for the period Apr - Sep 2010), or its strategic priorities (e.g. the report for the period Oct 2010 - Mar 2011).

3.12 The reports both pre- and post-October 2010 are primarily reports of outputs (i.e. activities undertaken), rather than outcomes. However, in the post-October 2010 reports, there are clear statements about the outcomes that would be expected to result from each activity.

3.13 At the time of this review, AFS was working with Evaluation Support Scotland to develop a formal monitoring and evaluation framework to sit alongside its organisational logic models. Therefore, it may be expected that future reports will begin to include evidence to show how AFS has contributed to the delivery of its intended outcomes.

Use of resources

3.14 AFS's grant from the Scottish Government has varied since 2008-09 as shown in Table 3.1 below.

Table 3.1: Core grant from the Scottish Government, 2008-09 to 2011-12

Financial Year Amount received
2008-09 £265,534
2009-10 £509,000
2010-11 £449,000
2011-12 £449,000

3.15 Scottish Government funding had changed little in the two years prior to 2008-09. The apparent large increase in funding for 2009-10 was the result of incorporating two activities (both previously funded separately by the Scottish Government) into the core grant. These were the GINA (Gender Issues Network on Alcohol) project, and funding to support a National Licensing Officer. In 2010, funding for GINA was discontinued and its work was mainstreamed into AFS's overall work programme. Funding for the National Licensing Office post continued to be included in the core grant.

3.16 The reduction in funding for 2010-11 is the result of the Government's current policy to implement zero-based budgeting for all external grants. This policy means that grant recipients cannot assume funding from the Scottish Government will be based on the previous year's baseline; rather a case must made for the level of funding required, starting from zero.

3.17 The reduction in the core grant in 2010 came at the same time as a reduction in other sources of income, thus placing severe financial constraints upon AFS. This will be discussed further in Section 4.

3.18 AFS has restructured staffing to better align with the organisation's new strategic objectives. In particular, a new post of Head of Policy, Research and Communications has been created, with responsibility for much of the policy / advocacy work being undertaken by AFS. Another new post, with responsibility for AFS's "Supporting Frontline Services" work programme, involves working with ADPs to support them in delivering the Scottish Government's national outcomes.

Performance management

3.19 In relation to performance management, it is not possible to comment on the extent to which AFS is delivering on the requirements of its contract with the Scottish Government, as there is no contract. Scottish Government officials reported being uneasy about AFS's lack of strategic focus prior to the appointment of the current Chief Executive, and several discussions had taken place about the need to become more outcomes-oriented.

3.20 The current view is that AFS is now operating on a more strategic footing and is proactively working towards a clear set of outcomes which directly contribute to the Scottish Government's own national outcomes.

3.21 The next steps should be to set out progress reports against jointly agreed outcome objectives and to develop monitoring and evaluation methods to demonstrate effectiveness across a range of policy-related activities over time.


Email: Iain MacAllister

Back to top