Delivering sustainable flood risk management: guidance (2019)

Second edition of statutory guidance to SEPA, local authorities and Scottish Water on fulfilling their responsibilities under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009.

7. Delivering responsibilities collectively


Responsibilities for flood risk management are divided between different organisations. Strong partnerships, founded on common aspirations, are needed to deliver coordinated or joint actions, aligned investment planning and efficient use of resources. Finding new ways to share skills, expertise and services is important to delivering partnership working.

This section provides guidance on:

  • the statutory framework for partnership working;
  • what it means to adopt a partnership approach to flood risk management;
  • building the right kind of partnerships;
  • governance and resourcing arrangements.

General duties on the Scottish Ministers and public bodies

Section 1 of the Act places a set of general duties on the Scottish Ministers, SEPA, and the responsible authorities (Table 6). With the support of the Scottish Ministers, SEPA and the responsible authorities must embrace and build on these statutory responsibilities to create a framework for partnership working that is underpinned by a common set of goals and responsibilities.

This will, at times, mean rethinking traditional responsibilities built around individual organisations. This will involve promoting joint working practices and initiatives; ultimately leading to greater coherence in the way flooding is managed.

Table 6 General duties on SEPA and other responsible authorities (based on Section 1 of the Act)

Exercise functions to reduce overall flood risk

Exercise functions to secure compliance with the Floods Directive

Act with a view to achieving objectives set out in flood risk management plans

Have regard to the social, environmental and economic impact of exercising functions

Act in the way best calculated to manage flood risk in a sustainable way

Promote sustainable flood management

Act with a view to raising public awareness of flood risk

Act in the way best calculated to contribute to sustainable development

So far as practicable, adopt an integrated approach by cooperating with each other

A partnership approach to flood management

Many public bodies have already recognised the benefits of working in partnership, either on an informal or a more formal basis. If approached effectively and in a focussed way, joint working can yield a range of benefits:

  • by identifying and removing duplication of effort and by sharing resources and information efficiencies can be found;
  • sharing of expertise allowing each organisation to focus on its strengths and avoid the need to develop/maintain expertise where it exists elsewhere;
  • building relationships to help deliver in one area of work can lead to benefits and improvements in other common areas;
  • developing a better understanding of respective roles and processes through joint working leads to improved coordination and delivery of actions.

SEPA and the responsible authorities must work across traditional institutional boundaries to deliver an integrated approach to flood risk management. This will require adoption of partnership working at all levels of flood management, from national strategic partnerships through to local/operational partnerships that deliver coordinated actions on the ground. This is not to say that everything must be delivered in partnership. SEPA and the other responsible authorities should deliver projects individually where it is more effective to do so whilst ensuring that partners are aware of what’s being developed.

A wide range of powers exists in statute to support partnership work and joint delivery of projects and services. SEPA and the responsible authorities should draw on these powers and arrangements to support their work to manage flood risk.

Building partnerships

When developing flood risk management plans, SEPA and the responsible authorities should work in partnerships founded on collaboration and co ownership of issues and actions (Table 6). To develop and deliver the first set of flood risk management plans fourteen local plan district partnerships have been set up to cover the whole of Scotland. These partnerships are led by a lead local authority. Membership includes SEPA, all local authorities in the district, Scottish Water, Forestry Commission Scotland and where relevant, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and Cairngorm National Park.

Each partnership has its own terms of reference developed to best support decision making and delivery taking account of local circumstances. Sub groups to deliver specific actions have been set up as and when required. Whilst the local plan district partnerships were set up to facilitate preparation and agreement to the flood risk management strategies and local flood risk management plans, they must evolve to support and coordinate delivery of actions.

SEPA and the responsible authorities should continue to work in these local plan district partnerships founded on collaboration and co ownership of issues and actions (Table 6).

A wide range of partnership models are available and the lead local authority and other partners should from time to time review their terms of reference to ensure that the most appropriate model for the local circumstances and aims is in place (Table 7).

The Integrated Catchment Studies provide a good example of collaborative partnerships. These were established to develop a better understand of flood risk from combined sources (including above ground sources and below ground sewerage and drainage systems) where responsibilities are split across two or more authorities and where solutions will most likely require coordination of different funding streams.

Table 7 Common types of partnership arrangements

Degree of Partnership

Characterised by…


You stay on your turf and I’ll stay on mine

(May be a rational solution - where clarity is brought to who does what and with whom)


I’ll lend you a hand when my work is done

(Often a pre-requisite of further degrees of partnership, where there is early recognition of mutual benefits and opportunities to work together)


“We need to adjust what we do to avoid overlap and confusion”

(Where the partners accept the need to make some changes to improve services/activities from a user/customer/community perspective and make better use of their own resources)


Let’s work on this together

(Where the partners agree to work together on strategies or projects, where each contributes to achieve a shared goal)


We feel totally responsible

(Where the parties commit themselves wholly to achieving a common vision, making significant changes in what they do and how they do it)

Whatever partnership model is being adopted, or which evolves, careful consideration should be given to whether the partnership should be formed through informal working relationships or be bound by legal agreements. It is essential that any arrangements are reviewed periodically to ensure that they remain appropriate as the partnership develops.

Consideration will also need to be given to who should be represented. Partnerships typically encompass members with three distinct roles:

Decision makers – the organisations that need to be involved in decisions and investment;

Consultees – the organisations or individuals who should be consulted for their advice or views but do not necessarily need to be regularly involved in all decision-making;

Informed parties – the organisations or individuals which may be interested in the outcomes of the partnership and should be kept informed but who are unlikely to have strong views about the decisions being made.

Governance arrangements

It is important that the local plan district partnerships are underpinned by a clear governance and decision making forum. These arrangements should promote accountability among the partners, and with those affected by decisions: shared responsibility should not mean diminished accountability.

Local flood risk management plans cannot be completed until agreements over funding and implementation timetables are reached. Delays in reaching agreements could affect delivery and approval of the plans and result in failure to meet statutory deadlines. It is important therefore that arrangements are in place within each organisation to secure agreements on flood management actions and their implementation.

To help ensure agreements can be reached, SEPA and the responsible authorities must establish the necessary forums, advisory groups and governance arrangements to support their flood management work. This could include, for more formal arrangements, the creation of boards to oversee the work of individual partnerships. To enable a partnership to work well there has to be:

  • Clear objectives that are agreed by all partners;
  • A plan that sets out each partner's responsibilities, actions and timescales;
  • Commitment from partners that they can invest effort and resource (time or finances);
  • A lead co-ordinator who will be responsible for reviewing whether work towards the objectives is progressing;
  • Clear communication, between partners and externally;
  • Engagement of wider stakeholders. Consultation and buy-in from the local community can be essential.

Managing partnerships

Often, a successful partnership requires some form of dedicated administrative and programme/project support, or at least a firm commitment from members’ organisations to the significance of the partnership and to the importance of time devoted to it by members.

SEPA and the responsible authorities should examine the need for dedicated staff to support the management of any partnerships formed to develop and implement flood risk management plans.

More generally, each organisation will need to ensure that:

  • they have the time to contribute effectively at meetings, operate on behalf of the partnership between meetings and implement appropriate actions within or on behalf of their organisation;
  • partnership skills and behaviours are embedded throughout the organisation so ‘partnership behaviour’ is not limited to those who sit round partnership tables;
  • key members of the partnership are given guidance on delegated authority and support to fast-track decisions that it is not possible to make round the partnership table;
  • Mediation mechanisms are built in to help resolve any disputes quickly and effectively.

Sharing services

Shared services is the convergence and streamlining of similar functions within an organisation, or across organisations, to ensure that they are delivered more efficiently than working alone, for instance, through economies of scale, access to specialised skill-sets and expertise.

SEPA and the responsible authorities should challenge themselves to collaborate, and engage in sharing services as an integral part of the partnerships formed to deliver flood risk management where appropriate. This should include considering joint initiatives and consolidation of services that can be shared with others where it adds value to the flood risk management process and reduces the resources required to deliver a reduction in flood risk.

Examples of areas where there may be benefits to be gained from a shared service approach include:

  • establishment and procurement of 3rd party projects, for example a natural flood management initiative delivered by a River Trust or Fisheries Board;
  • creation and sharing of flood risk management data, information and knowledge; for example information from detailed flood protection studies that can be incorporated into national flood maps;
  • awareness raising exercises, web tools to access flooding information and other communications work;
  • training and building of skills and expertise;
  • programme and project management.

Formal agreements such as service level agreements or memoranda of understanding should be established to manage the interdependencies and resource implications of sharing services. In all cases, these arrangements should be used to promote innovation and improvement.


Delivering the actions set in flood risk management strategies and local flood risk management plans will require significant investment of public funds. In partnership with the Scottish Ministers, SEPA and the responsible authorities should investigate and apply different forms of joint resourcing (Table 8).

As a minimum, all resource commitments must be aligned. However, in many instances, joint funding commitments or pooling of resources may be necessary. For instance, between local authorities working to deliver coordinated actions across a catchment, or between local authorities and Scottish Water when coordinating their respective work to deliver sustainable urban drainage.

SEPA and all responsible authorities are funded separately for their duties under the Act. They will have to get together to identify how they can pull together those resources to deliver actions on the ground.

Table 8 Examples of joint funding arrangements



Aligning resources

  • Co-ordination of planning across partner organisations
  • Targeting funding from different agencies in the same areas
  • Lead or joint commissioning of related services

Pooling non-financial resources

  • Time spent on partnership or inter-agency groups
  • Information generation and sharing
  • Different partners providing different elements in combination to provide a service (e.g. awareness raising campaigns)
  • Secondment of staff with specialist skills to projects or multi-disciplinary teams
  • Shared use of facilities or equipment

Joint funding

  • Joint funded posts
  • Jointly funded data, tools or models
  • Contributions to specific activities – with funds managed by one agency

Pooling budgets

  • To deliver coordinate drainage works or other projects
  • Creating centres of excellence or expertise in flood management
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