New Community Choices Fund to support #ParticipatoryBudgeting in Scotland in 2017-2018

First launched in 2016/17, the Community Choices Fund is a new fund to support participatory budgeting (PB) in Scotland.  Targeted particularly at work in deprived areas, the fund aims to build on the support provided by the Scottish Government for PB since 2014 as part of a broader agenda around democratic innovation and engaged citizenship. PB empowers local people to make decisions on local spending priorities and contribute to local democracy.

PB Scotland-logo (1)The Programme for Government 2016/17 included a commitment that the Scottish Government will continue to work with local government and communities on having at least 1% of council budget subject to Community Choices budgeting.  The 1% target is also one of five commitments included in the Scottish Government’s Open Government Partnership national action plan published in December 2016.

Community Choices supports one of the principles of Public Service Reform, that people should have equal opportunity to participate and have their voice heard in decisions shaping their local community and society.  Finally it complements the aspirations of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 which will help give communities more powers to take forward their own ambitions. To continue to support the growth of PB in Scotland the Community Choices Fund is available again for 2017/18.

The total fund available for applications is £1.5 million and will be available in two categories:

  • Category one is £750,000 for Public Authorities from a minimum bid of £20,000 up to a maximum bid of £100,000.
  • Category two is £750,000 for Community Organisations and Community Councils from a minimum bid of £20,000 up to a maximum bid of £100,000.

The funding is available to allocate to projects, to run the PB process itself whether small projects or mainstreaming, training & development, capacity building and support for communities.  For Public Authorities, the funding to allocate to projects will be awarded on a match funding basis only to the lead applicant, although joint bids including project funding from other partners are welcome.

The PB Scotland website www.PBScotland.scot provides more information about community choices events, policy and resources in Scotland, and profiles examples, pictures and videos of Community Choices in action.

New report for Participatory Budgeting practitioners, activists and policy makers in Scotland and beyond

An exciting collaboration has been established between the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) and What Works Scotland (WWS) to support the strategic and operational delivery of Participatory Budgeting within Scotland and beyond.

PB Harkins-Escobar front cover

The first output from this collaboration is a joint publication by Chris Harkins and Oliver Escobar: Participatory budgeting in Scotland: an overview of strategic design choices and principles for effective delivery.

The paper takes stock of the policy context for PB in Scotland, and outlines ten strategic PB design choices and ten principles for effective delivery. The metaphor here is not ‘transplanting’ but translating and adapting. PB delivery organisations, communities and citizens involved in the PB process are thus encouraged to use the design choices and principles selectively, flexibly and reflectively as meets their specific purpose, need and context.

Beyond cynicism and complacency – Participatory Budgeting in Scotland

Source: Scottish Community Development Centre

‘Advancing Participatory Budgeting in Scotland: A learning event’ (Glasgow, October 2014) Source: SCDC

Participatory Budgeting is a process that enables citizens to deliberate on priorities and decide on the allocation of public money. It started in 1989 in Porto Alegre (Brazil) and has now spread to over 1,500 localities around the globe. One of the reasons it has become one of the most popular democratic innovations of the last decade is due to the substantial impact of the process in tackling inequalities, solving local problems and increasing civic engagement in some Brazilian cities. Its impact in other countries, however, has been often less impressive. There are clear signs that PB is gaining momentum in Scotland:

  • Various localities and organisations have conducted PB projects in the last few years, and an increasing number are currently planning to start new processes.
  • There is a Scottish Government PB Working Group in place since the last spring considering a range of issues including capacity building, alternative PB models and a Scottish approach to PB. The Group includes Fiona Garven (Scottish Community Development Centre), Angus Hardie (Scottish Community Alliance), Felix Spittal (Scottish Council of the Voluntary Sector), Martin Jhonstone (Faith in Communities), myself from Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government, and officials from the Community Empowerment Unit.
  • There have been some introductory training programs completed across the country –e.g. by PB Partners in numerous Local Authorities and by myself with three Area Partnerships in Glasgow. There is also a new set of advanced training packages designed by PB Partners, and supported by the PB Working Group, to be rolled out across the country to support those Local Authorities planning to develop PB processes. This will be co-funded by the Scottish Government and the Local Authorities involved.
  • Minister Marco Biagi (Local Government) and Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil (Social Justice) have shown interest in PB –i.e. requesting evidence from academics and analysts, and discussing PB with the Working Group. Marco Biagi is also building on the work that Derek Mackay started setting up the PB Working Group and support for PB training.
  • There have been a series of seminars and sessions on PB, including the recent ‘Advancing PB Learning Event’ summarised in this report. There are also plans for a high profile national conference in 2015.
  • The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has endorsed the findings from the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy, which includes PB amongst its recommendations to develop new forms of public engagement (see their recent landmark report ‘Effective democracy: Reconnecting with communities‘). Similar points have been made by civic organisations like the Electoral Reform Society Scotland as part of their Demo Max process, or the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations in their response to the consultation on the Community Empowerment Bill.
  • What Works Scotland, a three-year research and knowledge exchange program funded by ESRC and the Scottish Government, has included PB in its plans for research into community engagement in Scotland. I will be leading on this research, starting with a review of evidence about PB processes in Scotland to be published before the summer. WWS will therefore contribute to develop the evidence base for future policy developments on PB.

In post-referendum Scotland, it is becoming commonplace to talk about the aspirations of a growing number of citizens who demand new ways of participating in politics and policy making. PB is increasingly seen as an important part of the new ‘democratic renewal’ agenda in Scotland. Interestingly, PB is not only being supported by the national government of the Scottish National Party, but also at local level by Labour administrations such as Glasgow City Council (where the figure £1.4 million has been mentioned in relation to ‘community budgeting’ via Area Partnerships). In other words, at least for now, PB has not become a political football, and there may be an opportunity for cross-party support of a long term PB strategy for the country.

However, this apparent momentum should not be cause for uncritical optimism by participatory democrats. There are different ways of approaching PB, and not all are equally effective in securing civic empowerment, tackling inequalities and solving problems. PB, like citizen participation more broadly, can be put to undesirable uses and be hijacked by managerial rather than democratic agendas. For example, I understand those who find it suspicious that PB is gaining momentum at a time of increasing cuts to public services. However, a simplistic analysis underestimates the impact of the independence referendum in opening up space for a more participatory democracy. Perhaps it is time to navigate and expand that narrow patch of hopeful land left between cynicism and complacency, and create a Scottish approach to PB that works for most and makes a difference.