Renfrewshire Council

3. The work of Renfrewshire's Alcohol and Drugs Commission

Renfrewshire's Alcohol and Drugs Commission was asked by Renfrewshire Community Planning Partnership to establish a true picture of drug and alcohol use in Renfrewshire, and to make recommendations on what partners could do together to support local people and communities adversely affected by drug and alcohol use and to improve life outcomes.

The scope of the Commission was therefore broad, and very different to those that have gone before, with the evidence purposefully focusing to a greater extent on the voices of local people, partners and staff, rather than on data or research on the most effective forms of treatment.

The Commission has considered what is under the direct influence of community planning partners, and other agencies who can deliver change. The result is a set of recommendations which are ambitious and challenging, not only for the community planning partnership but also for Scottish policy.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that this has had and will continue to have over a longer period of time, it is recognised that there will be a need to prioritise the actions that community planning partners take in response to these recommendations.

The terms of reference for Renfrewshire's Alcohol and Drugs Commission can be found in Appendix A.


Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission was chaired by Councillor Jacqueline Cameron, Chair of Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Integration Joint Board, and included experts from a wide range of local, regional and national organisations.

The Commission was supported by an independent facilitator, Professor Phil Hanlon, a retired public health professional and current chair of the Accord Hospice in Renfrewshire.

Each of the Commission members gave their time and input to this work freely, drawing on professional expertise, taking time to build a picture of Renfrewshire and its communities, providing challenge and raising the ambitions of local partners. A full list of Commission members can also be found in Appendix A.


The Commission recognises that the approach taken in Renfrewshire has been very different to other reviews and commissions that have taken place in Scotland and across the UK. Community planning partners were very keen that the Commission focused its activities on considering the impact of both alcohol and drugs across Renfrewshire's communities, and felt that this would allow some of the issues to be consider

"I was keen to be involved as I knew the Commission would be connecting with existing strategies active in Renfrewshire around education, poverty, culture, employment—all areas of work that Renfrewshire's Third Sector Network has connections, as well as commitments to. The Commission's activity adds to Renfrewshire's partnership approach—an approach which is seeking to achieve the best possible outcomes for Renfrewshire as a whole, as well as for individuals who require our care and support."
Alan McNiven, Commission Member and Chief Executive of Engage Renfrewshire

It was originally anticipated that the Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drug Commission would meet and conclude its findings over a period of 12 months, with the first meeting of the Commission taking place on 19 March 2019. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 caused the Commission to pause its work, however this resumed in September 2020, with the final meeting held on 5 November 2020. 

In its initial phase, Commission members were provided with the opportunity to hear from local partners about Renfrewshire as a place, and to learn more about some of the issues and challenges experienced by local people and communities. Following initial discussion, Commission members agreed a programme of work based around 3 key pillars:

  • supporting those with the highest need
  • early intervention and prevention
  • recovery.

In taking forward its programme of work, the Commission identified five key questions to guide its approach:

  1. what is the impact of drug and alcohol use?
  2. how are we collectively responding?
  3. how do those impacted feel?
  4. what could we do differently?
  5. what does research and evidence tell us?

Given this Commission was sponsored by Renfrewshire Community Planning Partnership, these questions were key to ensuring that the Commission was able to come forward with recommendations which partners have the levers and resources to address wherever possible.

A Listening Commission

From the outset, Commission members were clear that this would be a "Listening" Commission, which would put local people, service users, staff and partners at the heart of its work. The approach to be taken would be a human one, with a clear focus on what could be achieved collectively to better support people impacted by alcohol and drug use in Renfrewshire.

A full programme of listening and engagement sessions was undertaken, with Commission members visiting local groups, organisations and places to meet with service users, their families and staff in a more informal way.

This has allowed the Commission to tackle the disconnect between individuals and services in perceptions of access to services, acknowledge where things are not working and reset relationships.

The full programme of engagement activities is provided at Appendix C.

Providing a platform for individuals and family members with lived experience to discuss their priorities and influence change has been essential to the Commission and it is important that participants can see the difference that their involvement has made.

A significant number of individuals who met with the Commission said that they would welcome the opportunity to have their say and work with partners to help shape service provision. They cited the recovery conversation event held by the Commission at the Lagoon Leisure centre as an example of how best this can be taken forward. There is some evidence that some level of engagement is already happening in Renfrewshire.

In addition to the information gathered through the listening programme, Commission members were also provided with a range of opportunities to hear presentations and to receive briefings from local partner organisations, service providers and from innovative projects that have been delivered elsewhere in Scotland. Commission members played a key role in identifying who they wanted to hear from, based on their own professional knowledge and experience, and also in response to the feedback they were receiving through the engagement events.

This included responding to some of the emerging recommendations of the national Drug Death Taskforce which was initiated by the Scottish Government during the life of the Commission. The Commission also reviewed the findings of Dundee's Drugs Commission and considered the recommendations in relation to Renfrewshire.

That is where we started, here is our journey...

"BTHA, Renfrew Project service users and staff were delighted to be asked to be part of this consultation, this allowed us as a local service to be heard and our service users were supported to share their very honest opinions and lived experiences. The members of the Commission were genuinely interested which was very important to us, we felt they had listened and taken on board our views of services and areas for improvement and would then take this forward to shape things for the future."
Service Manager, Blue Triangle Housing Association