Scotland’s Community Choices Programme to support Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is recognised internationally as a way for people to have a direct say in how local money is spent.  Having its grassroots development in Brazil in the late 1980s, it has taken hold across the world.

In Scotland, PB is better known as Community Choices. Mainly because it rolls easier off the tongue but also because the Scottish Government’s Community Choices programme supports and promotes PB nationally.  This programme is delivered in partnership with local authorities, communities and third sector organisations, and implemented across policy areas from policing to health and social care, transport and education.

A key principle of Scotland’s strategic approach to public service reform is people should have an equal opportunity to participate and influence decisions that affect their lives and communities. PB is a tool for community engagement and an important resource for the wider development of participatory democracy.  It can help shape the future of public service delivery in a practical and tangible way.  It complements the aspirations for the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 which gives communities more powers to take forward their own priorities and ambitions.  And it can also help deliver the Public Sector Equality Duty by advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations between different groups.

Since 2014/15, the Scottish Government has invested £2.7 million through the Community Choices Fund, and will invest a further £2 million this year.  The bulk of the fund is open for applications from public authorities, community organisations, and community councils to run PB activity.  However, a significant sum is also used for a national programme which includes: consultancy support for PB organisers; digital engagement tools, support and advice; an evaluation programme; producing learning resources; establishing a PB Network; and maintaining the PB Scotland website as a hub for sharing practice and learning.  It also includes capacity-building to develop a network of Community Choices practitioners,  which will share learning and develop good practice, and will lead to a new cohort of PB trainers in Scotland.  This national programme will ensure that the right infrastructure and skills are in place across a range of partners to deliver PB successfully in Scotland.  In 2014 we established the PB Working Group and it has been instrumental in helping to nurture PB so that it is scalable, empowering and transformative.  The group includes representatives from national organisations working with communities, plus academics, third sector, PB experts, local government and central government.

We are now ready to take PB in Scotland to the next level. The Scottish Government is working with local government to have at least 1% of council budgets across Scotland being decided upon through Community Choices.  That means that tens of thousands of people will have a say in how tens of millions of pounds are spent by their councils. The 1% target is also one of five commitments included in the Scottish Government’s Open Government Partnership national action plan.

For more information visit PB Scotland which provides accessible information on events, policy and resources in Scotland, and profiles examples, pictures and videos of Community Choices in action.  Email with any enquiries.

Read the PPIW report, Participatory Budgeting: An Evidence Review, here.

About the author: Kathleen Glazik is a Policy Manager in the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Team, which forms part of the Public Bodies and Public Service Reform Division. Based in Edinburgh, Kathleen has led on participatory budgeting policy over the last three years.

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