Scottish Land Fund: evaluation

Independent evaluation of the Scottish Land Fund, commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by Mark Diffley. It reviews the operation of the fund and makes recommendations for the future.

Perceptions of the application process

Stage 1: Technical funding

Perceptions of the application process for stage one funding are broadly positive. Applicants' experiences with their advisors are positive, the overwhelming majority (95%) thinking the advice received to make their application was 'good' while almost all (93%) consider the help received from their land fund advisor as good. The feedback given on applications is also regarded highly (88%), with around two thirds (64%) of applicants perceiving the feedback received on their stage 1 application as very good.

Figure 8: Perceptions of the Stage 1 application process. Base: all (n = 174).
This shows the overall perceptions of the Stage 1 application process. Regarding ‘the help received from your Land Fund advisor’, 79% thought this was ‘very good’ while 14% thought it was ‘good’. Regarding ‘the advice received to make your application’, 71% thought this was ‘very good’, while 24% thought it was ‘good’. Regarding ‘the feedback given on your application’, 64% regarded this as ‘very good’, while 24% regarded it as ‘good’. Regarding ‘the time taken to receive a decision’, 46% regarded this as ‘very good’ while 44% regarded it as ‘good’.

For the majority of aspects of the stage 1 application process, around two-thirds or more of applicants rate the issue as 'very good.' However, there is a slightly less overwhelming rating of the time taken to reach a decision, with 44% rating this as 'good' and 46% as 'very good.'

The majority of those who were successful at stage one felt they were informed of the requirements for a stage two application (85%) and received information about their application in a timely manner (85%). Applicants who were successful with their stage one application also broadly felt informed of how to progress with a stage two application (83%). However, fewer applicants (73%) felt able to discuss the decision.

Figure 9: Perceptions of outcomes of Stage 1. Base: Successful applicants (n = 169).
This shows the perceptions of the outcomes of Stage 1. 85% of respondents agreed (30%) or strongly agreed (55%) that they were ‘informed of requirements for a stage two application’. 83% of respondents agreed (31%) or strongly agreed (52%) that they were ‘informed of how to progress with a stage two application’. 85% of the respondents agreed (38%) or strongly agreed (47%) that they had ‘received information about my application in a timely manner’. 73% of respondents either agreed (34%) or strongly agreed (39%) that they were ‘able to discuss the decision’.

The application process for stage one is fairly well regarded. This is reinforced through the qualitative responses. There are calls for clearer information about the supporting evidence, which is required with the application form, as well as some clarity with the guidelines and better protocols for when communicating outcomes with those unsuccessful community groups.

  • "More information could be supplied regarding the supporting evidence needed"

Applicants to the fund receive a letter informing them of the decision made about their project at management meetings. The letter currently states the points the group must address before applying to the fund again, and this is not always received well by the community group.

  • "The issuing of a standard letter when applications fail put a lot of pressure on the funding officers and advisors to explain the decisions made by the assessors."

However, there are calls for the stage one process to be quicker as it can delay acquisitions where funding was not required.

  • "the period of time between submission and decision make planning difficult"

Stakeholders regard the two-stage process highly, given that this is a new stage for the 2016-2021 fund, stakeholders believe it has worked well as it is beneficial to the applicant and has caused the success rate to increase at stage 2.

  • "Some groups we work with at stage one are very inexperienced and it can sometimes take them years to come back with an application… for groups to go on that journey and do their due diligence, test community support and do a feasibility study, make sure they've got a competent business plan and make sure they're not buying a liability… to me that stage is very important."

Stage 2: Acquisition funding

When considering the application process for stage two funding, almost all applicants (94%) believe the help received from their Land Fund Advisor is good and, as with the stage one application, regard the overall process as good (92%).

Figure 10: Perceptions of the Stage 2 application process. Base: those who applied for stage 2 (n = 132).
This shows the perceptions of the stage 2 application process among those who applied for it. It shows that, regarding help from the land fund advisor, 82% thought this was ‘very good’, while 12% thought it was ‘good’. Regarding the time it took to receive a decision about the application, 47% thought it was ‘very good’ and 43% thought it was ‘good’. Regarding the overall process, 57% thought it was ‘very good’ while 35% thought it was ‘good’.

However, as with stage one, the strength of agreement wavers when considering the time in which the application takes. Overall, 90% of applicants for stage two funding rate their experience above average however there is a fairly even split between those who think the process is good and very good.

Stakeholders are split on their views with regards to the time it takes to progress through the Scottish Land Fund and attain acquisition funding.

  • "Two stages is not a bad thing. It allows people to dip their toe in. Having to write down what you want to do is also a good way of testing out whether or not what seemed like a good idea when you were talking about it really is."

However, a minority of community groups may experience delays due to the time it can take to receive acquisition funding. This can be due to time taken to progress from stage 1 to submit a stage 2 application and receive a decision from the management committee. Currently the committee meets six times a year, although projects can be fast tracked if time sensitive. There are a few instances where the perceived delay has a knock-on effect, where business plans may require to be changed due to the fluctuation in the property market, and the initial business plan a group had based their application on may become out of date. This could cause the group to lose the opportunity to purchase the land they had plans for while they explore other sources for capital funds.

There is a notion that the application form at stage two is limiting and does not allow enough detail to explain about the community group and the purpose of the acquisition. There is a perception that there is no opportunity in the application form to demonstrate the character and nature of the applicant organisation to help distinguish them in a highly competitive arena.

  • "The application form is somewhat restrictive and does not really allow for full explanation of background and context of applicant's situation or environment."
  • "In comparison with a Community Asset Transfer application form the SLF2 feels limiting."
  • "It would be helpful if the question on 'outcomes' in the Stage 2 application could be more clearly stated. It was difficult to interpret what was wanted."

Eligibility Criteria

There is an agreement that well defined, rigorous, guidelines should be in place for any funding opportunity.

  • "The only thing we found a bit much was the expectation to change our constitution. We did that and it did not cause any major problems. But if every funder asked us to change the constitution according to their wording, that would be a bit difficult"

Internal stakeholders have different opinions of the eligibility criteria than those external stakeholders. External stakeholders described the eligibility criteria as being restrictive, too narrow and specific and as a barrier to accessing funding. However, internal stakeholders are typically supportive of the 'generous' eligibility criteria, believe they are fit for purpose and feel able to help groups fit the criteria.

  • "[They] are deliberately challenging. We've had some push back, but we need to remember that full engagement and involving everyone in a community is not easy and it's a big job."

There is a notion that the eligibility criteria at stage two can be restrictive and can be a barrier for groups to progress with their application. There is also a concern that urban groups may struggle more than rural groups, because of the eligibility criteria.

  • "It's much more challenging to apply the same rules, or guidance and principles, to urban areas as it is to rural areas."

In particular, communities in urban areas who are based around a specific interest, e.g. bowling clubs, tend to struggle in changing their structure to become a geographical community.

The Application Process Overall

The views of stakeholders are consistent with community groups; there are some areas which could be improved upon; however, the majority of applicants are happy. Some improvements, such as the suggestion by some stakeholders to reformat application forms so that they are supported by OS Mac systems, are straightforward and quick to achieve, while others will require greater thought and time.

The addition of stage one funding is regarded as a valuable resource for community groups, and stakeholders are broadly supportive of the two-stage process.

The time taken to progress an application can be seen as quite lengthy, however there are both benefits and drawbacks to the timescales. Additional time can allow community groups to plan for the acquisition stage longer and have firm plans in place for after acquiring their asset. However, for some groups the time taken to get a decision on funding can cause them to lose their asset and ultimately have to change their plans.

The eligibility criteria work: there needs to be some rules to follow with funding opportunities like this and on the whole groups can adapt to fit the guidelines. Governance structures are important however there should not be a one size fits all approach to community groups. The feedback from the interviews suggests that community groups in urban areas often find the eligibility criteria more difficult to work with than those in rural areas, due to them being formed in communities of interest, for example groups coming together to buy a sports facility, rather than communities of geography.



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