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Case Study: Working with The Improvement Service to measure inequality across Local Authority areas in Scotland

Meng Le Zhang and Gwilym Pryce

In 2018, Dr Meng Le Zhang and Professor Gwilym Pryce from the Understanding Inequalities project worked with the Improvement Service to develop a tool to analyse inequalities across all Local Authority areas in Scotland.

The Improvement Service

Meng Le and Gwilym developed a series of measures that calculates an inequality score at local authority level for a particular dimension, for example, air pollution, exposure to crime or housing quality, which can be then followed over time.

The Improvement Service used this index as a key component of their Community Planning Outcomes Profile (CPOP) toolkit which aims to help Community Planning Partnerships (CPP) understand the issues in their area, in order to identify where they might prioritise intervention measures to improve the outcomes for people living in those areas.

Nick Cassidy, Research Manager with The Improvement Service, explains the purpose of the CPOP tool:

"The tool is linked to the 2015 Community Empowerment Act and is designed to help CPPs to review their Local Outcome Improvement Plan (LOIP), which is about understanding inequality in outcomes across their area and within smaller localities within the CPP. The inequality indicators and analysis that Gwilym and Meng Le developed and shared with us are really helpful in doing that, and help to identify the outcomes where a CPP can focus attention, which might not be picked up by other measures."

2015 Community Empowerment Act

The purpose of the CPOP tool is to help CPPs and other stakeholders working in the Local Authority, such as analysts, councillors and other services, to identify where to focus their work in terms of improving conditions for people living in those areas. The toolkit helps CPPS to answer the following questions:

  • What is the overall pattern of outcomes across the area?
  • What is happening to levels of inequality in this area?
  • Are outcomes for the most vulnerable communities improving?
  • Which communities are seeing the biggest improvement and which require targeted focus?
  • Are there other similar communities that offer opportunities for learning?

The toolkit is designed so that this information is easily searchable for non-specialists and will provide CPPs with this critical information in a straightforward way.

The Improvement Service held a workshop in 2019 with Local Authority representatives to gather feedback on the CPOP too, where participants shared that they found that it was a really easy way to understand inequality within their CPP.

Nick told us

"We’re using the method developed by Gwilym and Meng Le to look at inequality for each outcome area (e.g. educational attainment or crime), and so it let us identify the areas where, although there have been improving outcomes across the CPP, there was still growing inequality. That was a really effective way to challenge them to think about whether their performance was as good it looks otherwise."

The inequality indicators are also really useful because they look at everyone across the whole CPP, rather than deprived/non-deprived areas. For example, in West Lothian, who are in the process of refreshing their Local Outcome Improvement Plan, this was really helpful, as inequality between geographical areas looks very low there, but actually, we can see from the Duncan Index measure that inequality in terms of experience of poorer outcomes is relatively high for some outcomes. So that really challenged their thinking about inequality in their area.”

Carl Bennett, Research and Information Officer at Moray Council explains how the CPOP tool is helping them to address inequalities in the area:

"The CPOP tool was used as one of the means of identifying the most vulnerable areas in Moray so that we could focus the activities of our Community Support Team, and community partners in the two localities most in need of support. As a direct result of using the tool, together with other data sources including the SIMD and NHS data, this allowed us to analyse and identify the two areas that are now being supported, Buckie Central East and New Elgin East. Both now have Locality Plans in place to tackle issues including reducing child poverty, improving educational attainment, and improving employment opportunities in better-paid jobs.

The CPOP tool is going to be particularly invaluable when we review the impact of these two locality plans, and the impact of the LOIP in the longer-term."

The Improvement Service is also working closely with a couple of Community Planning Partnerships across Scotland who are interested in developing their own set of indicators, and the Improvement Service will be encouraging them to use the inequality measures analysis further in understanding their own area.

Nick advised that there has been interest in using the measures within the CPOP at a national level, with Audit Scotland having recently used them and a plan to develop these further in collaboration with other national partners including the Scottish Government and Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO).

The Understanding Inequalities team will continue to work with the Improvement Service and other partners to measure, track and better understand inequalities across Scotland and beyond. If you would like to know more about this or any of our work, please contact Dr Meng Le Zhang.