Growing demand for publicly funded advice services, combined with a squeeze on funding, means that policy makers and funders, as well as advice providers themselves, must seek the most efficient and cost-effective means of delivering advice, a research report commissioned by the Scottish Government has recommended.

Focusing on welfare, money and consumer advice, the review, carried out by Blake Stevenson Ltd, finds that the demand for advice will continue to grow as the impact of changes to welfare reform take effect and reduced household income leads to more people needing advice – and that the advice being provided is becoming more time-intensive and complex in its nature.

It adds that while advice providers are taking actions to deliver their services cost-efficiently as they face a funding squeeze, significant challenges over their futures remain. 

"One-year spending review cycles within the public sector have had a significant impact on the ability of the advice sector to plan and staff services, and have resulted in loss of skills and resources", the review concludes. "Budget reductions coupled with increasing demand mean a different approach to the funding, development and delivery of advice services is required." 

It further emphasises the importance of prevention and early intervention to address some of the issues associated with increased demand.

That should be a focus for policy makers, who should also consider advice provision at the stage of developing policy, and ensure clarity of statutory obligations, along with opportunities for considering new ways of meeting these obligations, and improve their understanding of the need related to advice provision.

Funders, the review further concludes, should have a better understanding of demand for advice, focus more on early intervention, with "joined-up decision making" to avoid duplication and identify more opportunities for collaboration. It seeks better consistency of both decision making and measurement of outcomes, and encouragement of "advice interventions that are embedded across sectors (e.g. involving the Third Sector and the NHS)".

Advice providers should target unmet need, review their channels of delivery (including development of digital services), collaborate to achieve more effective coverage, share knowledge of what works best, improve the visibility of their services and improve their data collection to demonstrate their impact.

Click here to access the report.