National Participatory Budgeting Strategic Group minutes: November 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 19 November 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Martin Johnstone (Chair)
  • Alistair Kennedy, Money for Moray/Joint Community Councils of Moray
  • Angus Hardie, Scottish Community Alliance/Leith Decides/ Leith Links CC
  • Anil Gupta, COSLA
  • David Reilly, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Elidh Brown, tsiMoray
  • Fiona Garven, Scottish Community Development Centre
  • Jillian Gibson COSLA
  • Katey Tabner COSLA
  • Kathleen Glazik, Scottish Government Community Empowerment Team
  • Katie Brown, COSLA
  • Nicola Sykes, Education Scotland
  • Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh
  • Peter Kelly, the Poverty Alliance
  • Stewart Macgregor, Robertson Trust 
  • Tressa Burke, Glasgow Disability Alliance


  • Cit Lennox, SWAMP Glasgow, Kelly McBride, Democratic Society
  • Louise Macdonald, Young Scot, Robert Emmott, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar/Local Government Directors of Finance network.

Items and actions

Welcome and apologies

Chair welcomed Jillian Gibson, Katey Tabner and Peter Kelly to their first meeting and advised that Claire McPherson had moved to a post out with government. A new Deputy Director, Catriona Maclean would be joining the group.  Katie Brown is moving roles within COSLA and leaving the group.  

The Purpose of the meeting was to begin setting out a work plan to make progress on the group’s strategic framework and hear updates and matters arising from October meeting. Apologies were noted.

Strategic framework  

The group aims to build on the energy and capacity around PB over the last five years and build on an ambition that in five years’ time PB is part of the core infrastructure of a constantly renewing democratic and community life across Scotland.

Each developing action to support that ambition was discussed with a short provocation from a member and discussion as a starting point rather than a complete reflection of thinking. 

Actions to fulfil our ambition – marginalised communities


  • have focused energy in those areas where people and communities are currently furthest from the ability to exercise power (e.g. in our economically most marginalised communities, with marginalised communities of identity and/or interest and with young people)

Provocation from Peter Kelly from his experience leading the Poverty Alliance who estimate that poverty affects more than 1 million people in Scotland. This will increase with the pandemic, with the impact felt unevenly by communities.  Communities experiencing poverty have shown reserves of strength, resilience, mutual support and creativity, giving hope that those assets might be built on. PB provides an opportunity to reshape community control and resilience despite a declining sense of control in decisions affecting communities, but real challenges must be addressed  head on.  

The state faces financial challenges and PB can be part of our approach to solving those both at the national and local level. A sense of cynicism must be overcome.  PB must avoid being seen as communities left to divide up small budgets, pushing unpopular decisions onto local communities. A challenge it to transform those views into PB as a wider method of community control. 

How do we tackle this?

  • move upstream, align PB to big long term funding streams rather than current practice of short term, smaller budgets
  • marginalised communities taking decisions and being involved in processes must be resourced and have a long-term focus to be meaningful and different from the norm
  • given the scale of our ambition, extending from democratic renewal to systems change, the welcome investment to support PB is not so large. More is required
  • align with conversation in the Social Renewal Advisory Board as PB focuses on allied outcomes on social justice, reducing poverty and advancing equality
  • risk of cynicism is a real threat to achieving outcomes and may increase if public targets are not met. The visibility and popularity of PB is a great strength, visibly demonstrating success in shifting decision making power and better meeting community priorities can address cynicism

Actions to fulfil our ambition – strong alliances


  • have strong alliances with others committed to democratic and community renewal, both within Scotland and internationally, focused on achieving our wider shared ambitions

Provocation from Fiona Garven’s international learning and role on the board of People Powered; supporting participatory budgeting globally. Reasonably large scale PB processes are taking place globally in areas of extreme poverty and relative wealth, including seemingly unlikely places like Russia and Colombia. Although contexts differ, values and methodologies are the same. 

A growing mass of activity across the world gives a rich learning resource to support Scotland’s development, methods and processes. International learning informed the PB Charter for Scotland and CONSUL was designed in Madrid. Martin Johnstone brought Alderman Joe Moore from Chicago in 2013 to speak with national and city leaders about the potential of PB, helping ignite activity in Scotland. Key international learning includes that what we count as PB is important – across all countries the guiding principle is that citizens collectively must have the final say, if don’t, it’s not PB or participatory democracy.  Finally, PB has put Scotland on the world stage as an example of a bold and ambitious pioneer; we are the only country trying to implement PB at such scale and breadth.

How do we tackle this?

  • take opportunities for cross sector learning, working collaboratively and innovatively beyond siloes to understand challenges each sector faces
  • PB has gained traction due to the principles, values and outcomes it offers. It needs to be seen as a tool in our collective governance toolkit. This group’s role may be to help commissioners identify when and where it is appropriate 
  • a lot of responsibility for PB delivery has focused on local authorities, needs to broaden to all of our systems and how we invest larger sums. PB works best when different sectors and parts of the system come together. Nationally, this group has a role to highlight more mainstream Scottish opportunities for PB, including but not limited to local authorities
  • it would be valuable to have someone from health be part of the group
  • our ambitions should include extending PB to Scottish Government infrastructure investment, with a suggestion to consider ‘Building resilient and sustainable places’ – a £275 million community-led Place Based Investment Programme 
  • in embedding PB in Scotland avoid taking a method that is evidenced to work but implementing it in way that is unrecognisable, risking its place in the global stage and risks losing impact and outcomes in people’s lives

Actions to fulfil our ambition – informing systems change


  • identify ways in which PB can inform system change as well as policy and practice across the public and community sectors, including how budgets are set and decisions are made

Provocation from Katey Tabner’s work at COSLA on how PB can inform system, policy and practice change across the public sector. In considering systems change it’s helpful to understand the scope of the issues and consider how PB can inform the structures and processes which will result in real, lasting change. Within a context a reported declining ability to influence local decision making, reduced public sector resources disproportionately effecting our most vulnerable communities while there is an aspiration for functional and fiscal empowerment of local authorities alongside community empowerment. 

Councils remain committed to the 1% framework agreement where 32 councils each have different versions of PB, but want to ensure wider public sector and public sector partners are involved in that journey. Also important that Human Rights principles are embedded in processes. Done well, mainstream processes can integrate with COVID recovery planning.  

How do we tackle this?

  • suggestion to assess the Scottish Shared Prosperity Fund’s suitability for PB. Fund is being developed by Government and an expert steering group as a replacement for European structural funds with an aim to reduce disparities and a focus on national outcomes that align to PB
  • digital methods for PB are ever more important, more support for CONSUL would be helpful. Establishing one platform for digital PB across Scotland could help to ensure PB is delivered to a similar standard and approach
  • CONSUL is a tool and a means to an end and each local authority’s choice to use or not. There’s no aspiration for CONSUL to be a national platform but COSLA will support any LA choosing to use it if they choose. Interesting work noted integrating CONSUL and my-account in Moray
  • given that PB may not always be the most appropriate method at all times for all forms of systems change, suggestion to rethink incentives to support appropriate use of PB? 
  • council propositions are being developed with regards the local governance review, which will be brought forward shortly and will be of relevance

Actions to fulfil our ambition – tackling inequalities


  • be committed to programmes and processes which address and tackle inequalities

Provocation from Tressa Burke’s role in Glasgow Disability Alliance. While ‘inequality’ can be used to mean different things the biggest causes are poverty and structural inequality related to protected characteristics - social, physical, cultural and economic. Disability discrimination arises from disabling barriers, prejudice and  exclusion as a reaction to impairments and conditions: sometimes even harassment, violence or hate crime. 

To tackle inequality we must both tackle poverty and structural inequalities as a result of this discrimination and exclusion whilst being sensitive to their intersections and the impact on people who have multiple protected characteristics and experience exponential and intersecting barriers.  

This can be done by inclusive design/co-design with those experiencing inequality. GDA start with the premise that we tackle the disabling barriers, instead of focusing on the disabled people as the problem. GDA found that when we resource the removal of barriers, disabled people are entirely capable – and highly motivated – to operate online. GDA supports a mixed approach of online and offline engagement going forward to maximises participation and dialogue. 

The human rights approach PANEL principles are important but not a panacea as they surface tensions between the role of human rights duty bearers in meeting human rights law. Scottish Human Rights Commission report on withdrawal of care during the pandemic included the potential non-compliance with the human rights of some of the most vulnerable in our community. Potentially enabled by the emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) legislation. This may have been related to the pace of change and decisions, a misunderstanding of the intent of the legislation and a lack of understanding of disabled people’s human rights. We must recognise and acknowledge these tensions as a starting point and progress from them towards a plan of action .

How do we tackle this?

  • need to ensure that our processes deliberately begin with focusing on those who are most often left behind. The PB Charter for Scotland can help with this, but having standards isn’t enough, they have to be used. Important that they are living and real standards and that we profile good practice
  • ‘strength based’ shared values are helpful and community led processes can help develop these. There may be times where practice needs to be critiqued  but there is a need to nurture an inclusive culture that welcomes practitioners in rather than bash them with (for example) public sector equality duties
  • recognition that Public Sector Equality Duties rest with the public sector, not for communities to be held accountable or expected to have practice that performs better than a public sector with greater resources
  • helpful for government to support PB though a human rights lens, with an orientation of human rights at the centre of everything in PB
  • the group’s aim should be to learn rather than blame as we continue our journey

Actions to fulfil our ambition – understanding the impact of PB


  • develop a deeper understanding of the impact of PB across Scotland alongside an inbuilt commitment to addressing weaknesses, encouraging improvements and sharing best practice in how PB operates

Provocation from Oliver Escobar’s academic and practical experience supporting PB and deliberative democracy. Suggested the group could help to develop a community action research programme, creating a national network of community-based researchers; linked with colleges, third sector and others with support from local public authorities (not just councils) and national institutions – so that: 

  • there is some coordination in terms of research methods and data collection 
  • some funding to support community action research (both training and fieldwork) 
  • capacity to do analysis across the system and take a strategic perspective built on the richness of local research and the insight from patterns across the country

Building on learning and practice from ‘Knowledge is Power’  create capacity within communities, linking local and regional organisations and networks to make sense of the stories and numbers generated by this work and support outcomes. 

How do we tackle this?

  • require a critical mass of community led research evidence for themes to emerge. It’s critical is that communities build knowledge while stimulating other outcomes and activities
  • building capacity within the community sustainably and consistently is a challenge but is possible where the third and public sector work together
  • issues remain around what kind of evidence is respected and valued but action research is closely connected to practice that supports outcomes
  • this would be one tool and not a one stop shop for all things PB. Other approached and methods may also be helpful

Next steps

The group restated that these are a starting point to our conversations rather than a complete reflection of thinking. Elidh, Katey, Fiona, Martin and David to meet further to sense check some of these notes in a way that helps a plan of action to emerge.  

Matters arising

Note from previous meeting

Were agreed.

Previous discussion on 1% framework agreement 

Anil and Kathleen informed the group that the Scottish Government and COSLA have agreed a way forward for the 1% Framework Agreement. Mainly that there is no formal extension to the deadline but flexibility is available for councils who may need more time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The COSLA team will continue to support councils and work in collaboration with key stakeholders. The chair thanked members of the group in their engagement in these conversations. 

PB in schools 

Despite challenges due to the current climate, discussions about the implementation and development of PB in schools are continuing. A group chaired by Education Scotland has met four times and will keep this group informed of developments.

Areas of personal action

Members were asked what actions they will take as a result of the meeting. These were for individuals rather than of concern to the group. 

Next meeting 

The next meeting will be held on 12 January 2021.    

Back to top