Publicly-funded advice services in Scotland: review report

Review report from a Scottish Government-commissioned review of publicly-funded advice services in Scotland.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Scottish Ministers are working with advice providers and other stakeholders to develop a coherent approach to how the Scottish Government supports advice services in order that its work to specify and fund advice services in future is:

  • fully co-ordinated, and where appropriate, aligned with the approach of other public funders such as Local Authorities, Health Boards and the UK Government;
  • focussed on the needs of people, clearly supporting its commitment to building a fairer Scotland through tackling poverty and inequality;
  • underpinned by a continuous improvement approach taken to ensure a consistent, high level of quality and standards for advice provision;
  • providing demonstrable value for money for the use of public funding; and
  • able to support the sector to respond to key strategic developments such as the recent devolution of consumer advice powers and the future devolution of social security powers.

The Scottish Government's Communities Analysis Division commissioned Blake Stevenson Ltd. to undertake a desk-based review of publicly-funded advice services in Scotland, to support it in its on-going review of the assistance given to advice services. The research will support the Government to provide a more co-ordinated approach in its engagement with service providers. This research took place between October and December 2016. Its aims were to:

  • identify how advice services in Scotland are publicly funded and delivered;
  • provide an overview of the client groups who use the services and, where information is already available, how they engage and any barriers;
  • identify where overlaps and gaps in services exist; and
  • highlight any areas that have been identified for possible improvements from the existing evidence, and any specific recommendations made.

Scope of this review

The focus of this research was limited to Type I and Type II advice, as described in the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers (the Standards):

  • Type I advice is "Active Information, Sign-posting and Explanation". A particular emphasis is placed on the 'active' aspect of the advice provision and therefore this type of advice extends beyond the presence of posters or leaflets and rather is concerned about explanation and, where appropriate, referrals to other advice agencies or service delivery partners.
  • Type II advice is "Casework". Casework is described as supporting an individual in need of advice to take action, for example, support with completing forms or negotiating with third parties on a user's behalf. Type II advice stops short of advocacy and representation - these activities fall into Type III advice and are beyond the scope of this research. However, as will be seen later in this report, isolating our research to Type I and Type II advice was complex as many of the documents that we analysed, and organisations we received information from, work across Type I, II and III advice.

In addition, the brief for the research specified that the advice support to be considered would relate to welfare, money and consumer advice but recognised that advice seekers often require advice across multiple and varied issues and therefore the review should cover publicly-funded advice given in a range of situations. In the next section we outline the methodology applied to the research.


We applied a mixed methodology to collect quantitative and qualitative data from a range of sources. A review of secondary research on advice provision in the form of a literature review was undertaken alongside undertaking primary research through an online survey of advice providers and funders, and a small number of follow-up telephone interviews with survey respondents.


Review of secondary research and review of relevant documentation

We conducted a review of literature related to the publicly-funded advice landscape in Scotland to draw out key themes and recommendations.

To begin this work, the Scottish Government provided Blake Stevenson with a list of 44 documents (a mixture of secondary research and annual reports) to consider as part of this literature review. Additionally, we considered literature sourced from a scan of relevant published research conducted through IDOX [3] , and a number of sources that emerged from ad-hoc searches and were recommended as being of direct relevance to this review. A full list of the literature examined is provided in Appendix 1. The range of literature examined included:

  • research reports with a range of different foci;
  • differing types of documentation ranging from individual project/organisation-level evaluations to annual reports and white papers;
  • a wide range of research methods applied;
  • a combination of reports specific to Scotland and others which are specific to England or cross jurisdictions in their commentary; and,
  • reports relating to differing timescales and political contexts.

The policy landscape within which advice services sit has changed significantly during the past few years, as we describe in the next chapter. As a result, we have focused this review on the more recent documents available, but also examined older documents that offered interesting points of learning and information that was still relevant.

Survey of Scottish Government funding recipients

We conducted a survey of organisations currently in receipt of Scottish Government funding, in order to test the findings of the literature review, gather data concerning the type ( i.e. Type I or II) and nature of advice that these organisations offer, access channels to the advice, and how it is funded, and to gather qualitative data about their views of advice provision currently.

We designed a short survey using SNAP surveys to capture this information. Due to the short timescales involved in this project, the survey was designed, with the input of the research advisory group, prior to the conclusion of the literature review. The survey was primarily available for online completion with the option of paper returns if preferred. Scottish Government provided an initial list of recipients for the survey. Blake Stevenson emailed these recipients with the hyperlink to the survey on 24 th October 2016 and scheduled to close on 5 November. The survey end date was extended to 5 December to allow an additional tranche of potential respondents to complete the survey.

Blake Stevenson had issued the survey to 96 unique contacts, and in addition, the Scottish Government and selected stakeholders also cascaded the link to the survey to relevant contacts [4] .

The survey was completed by many of the key advice giving organisations in Scotland, as well as a range of smaller, project-based advice services, ensuring that we received a good mix of data and views. The data gives a robust indication of advice service delivery currently in Scotland.

Telephone interviews with selected survey respondents

Telephone interviews were also carried out to explore key themes emerging from the early-stage research in more detail. An interview schedule was developed, based on emerging findings from survey responses and the initial review of relevant literature. We conducted interviews with eight organisations. The organisations that participated in interiews included a range of different advice service providers - some working across the UK and offering advice to all, and some working in very defined localities or serving a particular demographic.

Event with key stakeholders

The Scottish Government hosted an information event for key stakeholders. We presented early findings at this event and the event provided an opportunity to hold structured group conversations to discuss the emerging findings in more detail. The results of these conversations are reflected in the findings and shape of this report.

Timeframe for the research

The field work for this research commenced in October 2016 and concluded in December 2016. The timescale for this review was intentionally short in order to enable it to feed into the wider study being undertaken by Scottish Government, and the methods selected were determined by the timescale available. It was recognised that, as a result, this review would indicate key evidence gaps and would inform further work undertaken in future.

Structure of the Report

Chapter 2 sets out the policy context for the advice services supported directly by Scottish Government.

Chapter 3 provides an overview of current public funding arrangements of advice services

Chapter 4 details recipients' experiences of funding

Chapter 5 sets out how advice is provided.

Chapter 6 discusses the impact of advice services.

Chapter 7 explores the impact of the advice.

Chapter 8 provides conclusions and recommendations.

Appendix 1: Documentation considered as part of the review

Appendix 2: Funding provided by non-statutory organisations & the Third Sector

Appendix 3: The survey tool

Appendix 4: Bibliography


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