External Review of the National Carer Organisations (NCOs)

External review of the National Carer Organisations (NCOs) undertaken by Reid Howie Associates.

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of a review of the National Carer Organisations ( NCOs) in Scotland, carried out by Reid Howie Associates for the Scottish Government between November 2013 and June 2014. There are seven NCOs:

  • Carers Scotland.
  • Carers Trust Scotland (formerly known as the Princess Royal Trust for Carers).
  • Coalition of Carers in Scotland (the "Coalition").
  • Crossroads Caring Scotland.
  • Minority Ethnic Carers of Older People Project ( MECOPP).
  • Shared Care Scotland.
  • The Scottish Young Carers Services Alliance ("The Alliance").

The aims of the review included: examining options for the reform of NCOs and the NCO Network; considering a shared vision and workplan; and making recommendations about the interface between the Network and other relevant organisations, as well as potential criteria for inclusion as an NCO. The associated objectives were to help achieve: the optimum outcomes for carers; the most efficient and effective use of resources; and the optimum outcomes to ensure that the Scottish Government Carers Policy Branch and the NCOs best serve each other.


The review identified that the NCOs represent a diverse group in terms of structure, size and areas of work. The NCOs come together as a "Network" (which was established in 2006, with the adoption of Terms of Reference). The broad purposes of the Network are set out in terms of: collective leadership for planning, development, monitoring and evaluation of policy and legislation; the promotion of effective working with the Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government); and the creation of collective responses to consultations and policy developments. Later, the Network agreed a shared vision, drawing from the 2010 National Strategy "Caring Together":

"it is our shared vision that all Scotland's unpaid carers will feel valued, included and supported as equal partners in the provision of care."

The Network, as well as individual NCOs, adopted both the national carer and young carer strategies, and in particular the five key carer outcomes.

In 2013, Network members agreed that its work should be focused on four main areas: research; policy; engagement; and services. These have been described as the "four pillars" of the NCO Network. Criteria for membership were also agreed, including that organisations should be: national, and with at least a base in Scotland; have a primary focus on carers; third sector; and have a commitment to work with others to further the vision of the Network.

The NCO Network has no formal status, and cannot apply for funding in its own right, although, in a number of cases, an individual NCO has acted as host organisation for a "Network" project (including, for example, the Alliance and the NCO Carer Training Consortium, which are hosted by Carers Trust Scotland). It has no office bearers. Staff time to work on Network business is, in effect, donated by individual NCOs. The allocation of time is generally not fixed, but varies depending on the work required.

The Network meets approximately monthly, although it is clear that there is a significant volume of correspondence between members between meetings. Meetings are chaired by rotation, or by the host NCO. Administrative support is largely provided by Carers Scotland on a voluntary basis. In 2013, two sub-groups, Policy and Research, were formed.

The Network has no formal strategy or action plan, and its work is agreed and allocated by mutual consent, either at meetings or via email. As part of its Terms of Reference, the Network agreed a mode of operation which allows any NCO to act on behalf of, or represent the Network with agreement of members.

The work undertaken by the Network is extensive, and covers each of the four areas (or pillars) mentioned earlier. It is described in detail in the main body of the report.

The review found little evidence of duplication in terms of "national" work carried out by individual NCOs. The only exception to this was in relation to information provision, where there appeared to be a lack of a coherent overall approach. In addition, there was found to be no obvious single source of information on carer issues at a national level, nor comprehensive means of signposting carers to local forms of support.

Contact between carers and the NCO Network was found to be largely through local carer organisations. In turn, contact with local carer organisations was found to be largely through individual NCOs, with onward reporting to the Network.

The research identified that a wide variety of other organisations work with, or interact with carers and carer organisations, including statutory services (particularly local authorities and the NHS) and a variety of voluntary organisations, some of which have a focus on specific conditions or groups. A range of examples were identified of ways in which the NCO Network has worked with other types of organisations, including the development of strategies, the identification of needs, the specification of services and the development of good practice. Contact with non-carer organisations was found to be largely through individual NCOs.

The review found that the prevalent view of the work of the NCO Network was largely positive. A range of benefits of the Network were identified, including providing a national voice for carers and carer organisations, and promoting a joined-up approach and good practice, as well as many benefits relating to the nature and value of the specific work undertaken.

Some concerns were also identified, however, and these related both to aspects of the work and aspects of the structure of the Network, as well as to the interface between national and local organisations. For example, the Network was found to lack an overall strategy and action plan to guide its work in relation to achieving the national carer outcomes, as set out in the national strategy. It was also found to lack a strategic approach to particular aspects of its work (e.g. representation of carers; links to carers and other organisations). This, in turn, makes the work less transparent and accountable, and may mean that the specific issues facing some groups of carers are not identified or addressed. There is also a relatively weak "brand" and a lack of clarity about the extent to which campaigning can take place without impacting on funding. There are also aspects of specific types of work which the review findings suggest could be strengthened and developed.

In terms of structure, there are some concerns about the mix and number of participants; anomalies in participation; the criteria for participation; and the suitability of the structure for the current challenges. A range of concerns were identified about whether the current informal, "goodwill"-based model would be capable of supporting necessary future development. There were also some concerns about the current means of funding national work (as "piecemeal"), and about the heavy reliance of most NCOs on Scottish Government funding.

There was, however, a virtual consensus that there was a need for national work on carer issues. A range of cross-cutting issues were identified which would benefit from a co-ordinated approach, and which would be more efficiently and effectively done nationally, rather than by individual NCOs or local carer organisations. However, it was also recognised that much of the work to support carers needed to be done at a local level, by local organisations.

A number of common themes were identified in relation to the key purposes of a future NCO body. These were: to improve outcomes for carers; to promote carers' rights; to provide a voice for carers; and to improve support for carers. Allied to this, the review findings suggest that the future work of an NCO body should focus on five areas, relating to these key purposes, and building on its current strengths. These are: policy development; research and oversight; developing capacity and practice; communication; and national level services.

It was highlighted that, in order to ensure that this work can be taken forward, there is a need for a professional, well-resourced national NCO body. The review identified a range of structural options, and made suggestions relating to these, as well as to the development of the NCO body's work and the overall approach to future funding. These should help address the concerns identified, and ensure that the NCO body will be best-placed to meet future challenges.


The review identified 5 recommendations. These were:

Recommendation 1: The NCOs should develop a clear strategy and action plan for the NCO body. This should include:

  • ­ Its overall purpose and vision.
  • ­ Aims and objectives.
  • ­ Key principles.
  • ­ Areas of work and overall responsibilities.
  • ­ Key priorities, tasks and responsibilities.
  • ­ Links to carers and organisations.
  • ­ The planning cycle and timescales.
  • ­ Mechanisms for monitoring and reporting.

Recommendation 2: The NCOs should give careful consideration to developing a more formal partnership in order to begin to address the issues raised in the review, increase effectiveness and provide a platform for further development in the future.

Recommendation 3: The NCOs should consider further development of equalities work and comprehensive representation of carers, broadening the focus of specific work from BME and young carers to include other groups of carers facing particular issues as a result of their circumstances (including those in rural areas), and taking a more strategic approach to representation overall.

Recommendation 4: The NCO body should consider the development of some consistent, high level national information and provision of this through a single point of access (e.g. shared website).

Recommendation 5: The current mechanism used by the Scottish Government to fund national level work with carers (unlimited separate bids to Section 10) should be reconsidered.


Email: Peggy Winford, peggy.winford@gov.scot

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