Implications for practice and policy
From the considerable volume of data generated in the first phases of this evaluation a number of issues have significant implications for further development of PB by local authorities and for future support and direction from the Scottish Government.
Overall, we have identified four main areas of learning as relevant to the future development and implementation of PB. Local authority officers, community residents and representatives of community and other stakeholder organisations are all concerned that future development of PB should be transformational, reflecting the fundamental principles of the concept – bringing decision making closer to communities and that the processes and content of decisions being made should be meaningful and contribute to positive change for communities.
1. Living up to expectations and 'principles' of participatory budgeting requires improvements and clarity in articulating the purpose and intention of participatory budgeting
At present, the dominant approach can be characterised as transactional rather than transformational. In order to effect a transformation in relations between communities and local authorities, there requires to be a clear recognition of existing power imbalances between communities, citizens, civil society and that these power relations must change.
There is a significant need for a strategic distinction between the purpose and intent of local grants and the rationale for differences in distributing them through established paper-based applications and assessments and through recent PB activities. This relates to the need for capacity building with local communities in order to develop an understanding of the rationale for different approaches to resource allocation and the significance for their fundraising.
Clarity and consistency is required across the PB processes including calls for bids, eligibility and bid selection criteria; transparency in selection criteria and processes; and parity of voting eligibility. Clarity is also required with regards to the relationship between additional activity carried out by the community and funded by local authorities, and activity and functions previously provided by the local authority and now being funded on a more limited level through community activity.
2. Building capacity and competence for meaningful and sustainable participation within communities, local authorities and partnerships
From the evidence to date is it clear that there are a series of first and second order outcomes, but that the latter have emerged by default as first order objectives have not been clearly formulated at a strategic level. The valuable secondary outcomes include increased awareness and knowledge of community-led activity at local level; increased community cohesion through acknowledgement of activity across communities of place and identity; and practical exchanges of information and resources.
First order, or strategic, objectives have not been clearly articulated by the majority of local authorities analysed. The by-products, the valuable second order benefits which are not explicitly stated around community cohesion, for example, but are clear evidence of developing community identity, capacity, and social capital are clear to both the community and institutional actors with potential for further action now and in the future.
b. Local Authorities
PB activities to date represent a significant resource commitment on the part of local authorities, or more specifically on the community development/engagement functions which have been charged with delivering this approach and where no additional staff have been allocated. Existing staff are absorbing considerable additional workloads which represents an unsustainable delivery model. This will require strategic resourcing attention as local authorities upscale towards the 1% target.
In addition to effective resourcing levels for staff, other institutional actors such as Health and Social Care Partnerships and Community Councils were also highlighted as not only key to the development of PB, but in need of support to reform ways of working and engagement with communities as well as additional resources to increase their participation in the process.
3. Policy and legislative drivers for Participatory Budgeting
The Public Sector Equality Duty ( PSED) is not widely regarded as either an enabler in the process or that PB also supports the implementation/compliance with public sector equalities duties in the form of extended consultation, mitigation of inequalities and the fostering of good community relations. Highlighting the opportunities not only of PSED compliance, but of the advancement of equality and enhanced effort to tackle inequality is a clear opportunity for the Scottish Government.
Further clarity and direction from Scottish Government and clarity from public authorities on their strategic direction is required in relation to the strategic interest in transformation – including transfer of power – in local decision-making processes in community participation. Similarly the policy context and enabling legal and policy drivers including Open Government Partnership, Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, Public Sector Equality Duty, incoming socio-economic duty and the pre-existing duty to promote wellbeing at local levels could be more clearly linked.
Further clarity of purpose and communication from the Scottish Government may respond, at least in part, to calls for further legislative underpinning for PB, given the extensive provision already in place that could be better understood and maximised.
Public service reform has been largely an implicit rather than explicit driver of engagement in PB. Transforming delivery of public services has to date been accelerated through a range of ideological and political steers from new public management constructs of the relationship between service users (customers) and the state as a facilitator, or a municipal paternalism whereby the public authority dominates and directs decision making on behalf of the local population, and in more recent years the downward pressure of austerity cut backs on public spending. Public service reform premised on a new relationship with citizens, deciding on public resources for public good potentially opens up alternative methods of engagement and transformation in decision-making, but requires a significant culture change in local authority political and resource management.
4. Strategic engagement with 1%
It is clear from the evidence generated in the evaluation to date that there is both a lack of clarity and certainty as to what assignation of 1% of councils budgets via participatory processes means in practice. A number of strategic and operational questions remain to be addressed by the Scottish Government. These include:
- Is 1% intended to be 'top sliced' across the full council budget or a total of 1% of council spend on activities and allocations being decided through a range of deliberative and participatory processes?
- Is the directive to implement participatory decision-making at all levels of council budget-setting, i.e. at full council and committee level as well as at neighbourhood/ward level?
- What is the 1%? Across full council budget or within neighbourhoods or services? What flexibilities do local councils have and what flexibilities will Scottish Government support? What learning and development needs and process changes are required at council and at Scottish Government levels?
Email: Jacqueline Rae