National Participatory Budgeting Strategic Group minutes: October 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 8 October 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Councillor
  • Kelly Parry, COSLA Community and Wellbeing Spokesperson
  • 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
  • Kathleen Glazik, Scottish Government Community Empowerment Team
  • Katie Brown, COSLA
  • Kelly McBride, Democratic Society
  • Louise Macdonald, Young Scot
  • Nicola Sykes, Education Scotland
  • Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh
  • Robert Emmott, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar/Local Government Directors of Finance
  • Stewart Macgregor, Robertson Trust/Scottish Funders Forum
  • Tressa Burke, Glasgow Disability Alliance


  • Claire McPherson, Scottish Government Public Service Reform, Public Bodies and Third Sector
  • Cit Lennox, SWAMP Glasgow
  • Louise Long, Health and Social Care Inverclyde/Health and Social Care Scotland Chief Officer network

Items and actions

Welcome and apologies

The Chair welcomed Robert Emmott attending on behalf of the Local Government Directors of Finance. Robert provided a brief insight into the unique position of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the financial challenges faced there and across Scottish Local Government and the shared interest in the monitoring and achievement of the 1% PB target. Apologies were noted.

Minutes of the last meeting

The minutes of the meeting held on 27 August 2020 were agreed.

PB Strategic Group framework

The Chair invited feedback on the framework document he had drafted to guide the group’s remit, actions and development which was shared with members prior to the meeting. The document was well received and comments included the importance of placing PB in wider national conversations. For example, highlighting PB’s ability to help deliver on recommendations from the Christie Commission to relocate power to the most appropriate level closest to citizens while securing human rights and reducing inequality.

Group members who are also on the Social Renewal Advisory Board noted the value of PB in those conversations and that they would welcome PB being included as one of their recommendations. The Local Governance Review was also highlighted as being concerned with subsidiarity including communities and places having greater control and influence over decisions that affect them. It is necessary to consider how powers, responsibilities and resources are shared across national and local spheres of government, and with communities. Also, COSLA’s blueprint for local government provides a narrative around the kind of country we want and the changes that could make a difference to communities. More generally other opportunities are a general direction of travel toward localism, place based approaches, 20 minute neighbourhoods and community wealth building.

A key point made was that to achieve our ambitions PB is best understood as a mainstream ‘institution’ that enriches and supports many forms of democracy and policy development, rather than a discreet activity dealing with discretionary budgets. In essence rather than informing change PB becomes the systems change needed to move us from rhetoric to reality. Part of the discussion suggested the potential helpfulness of a systemic review of why, in a time of greatest community power and forms of participation, PB has been paused and what is needed to unblock the potential.

It was noted that political leadership and discursive leadership both have benefits. Discussion covered the need for PB to extend beyond local authorities to cover other key services delivered locally including Police Scotland and the NHS which were specifically mentioned. An ecosystem of participatory and democratic methods such as co-design and mini-publics were also mentioned as worthy of support while local authorities get through the pandemic and the effects on ‘business as usual’.
The need to build on inclusive digital participation and the potential of the CONSUL platform was also highlighted as needing to continue.

It was also suggested that given the financial difficulties facing Local Government due to the pandemic it would be wise to ‘flip the narrative’ and agree to emphasise the positive working with those councils that appear likely to achieve success. This would provide an opportunity for leadership to develop and for those less confident to have examples of what success looks like.

Requests for action were:

  • COSLA provide information on recent PB activity in local authorities, when available, to help assess the current position and benchmark future progress 
  • COLSA provide an update on CONSUL, how many councils are using it and what their experience is, future development plans and any plans to extend its use to community groups
  • given the current pause in PB activity in Scotland and the concern of a corresponding loss of capacity and infrastructure, the Scottish Government restart Community Choices funding to use PB as part of the social recovery

Discussion on 1% Framework agreement

The Chair welcomed Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government and Councillor Kelly Parry, COSLA Community and Wellbeing Spokesperson to the second half of the on-line meeting.

Ms Campbell reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to PB and to the 1% Framework Agreement with local government as a key milestone for community empowerment. She referred to the recent evidence from the Scottish Household Survey of a reducing sense of influence within communities over decisions that affect them. Placing PB in the context of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Christie Commission would be a key part in how we make Christie principles a reality.

However, she noted that given the impact of the pandemic on local government, there is a lot to consider and that the group’s advice and steer would be much appreciated.

Firstly, three group members reported on their engagement with networks and communities and provided advice in turn. This included engagement with health and wellbeing forums, Third Sector Interface networks, communities of identity, regional community council networks and PB practitioners. Group members contributed to the discussions. Advice was prefixed with empathy and understanding of the position of local authorities and a shared commitment to the best possible solution for local services. Key points made were:


  • in the current circumstances local authorities attention is best focused on supporting community priorities
  • that how PB is defined and what is counted ‘in scope’ matters, but that PB should not be confused with other forms of community engagement or empowerment


  • communities need to be resourced and empowered to lead the way
  • frustration that digital PB methods are not more readily available and a desire for digital PB to be rolled out at speed. While an over-reliance on this could exclude significant parts of communities due to digital exclusion
  • disabled people continue to want a direct say in how decisions on resources are made - if that had been in place in our institutions, human rights and equality would not have been put at such risk in our Scottish Government decision making during the pandemic.
  • PB helps rather than hinders meeting those local government financial challenges with better targeted spending of public funds where it’s needed most
  • young people don’t want to press pause having had such a difficult time during the pandemic. Delaying PB could be seen as a signal that their voices don’t matter
  • that PB comes from the toughest of times and will build our power to respond. When organisations like the Poverty Alliance advocate for an increase in PB to meet our increased levels of poverty we should listen rather than retreat


  • concern that delay could lose the gains made from five years of investment, testing and building capacity and appetite for PB, particularly in some communities furthest away from decision making
  • desire to avoid any delay as this would send out the wrong message of a Scotland that is rich in empowerment rhetoric but not reality
  • delay risks a loss of rural activism if PB is kicked into the long grass

In closing remarks Cllr Parry thanked members for their frank and robust advice.

She stated that it would be a misunderstanding to interpret a delay in reaching 1% as representing local authorities rowing back from delivering on PB. She reiterated local government’s commitment to PB and will take on board the requests for action above and will work in partnership with the Scottish Government.

Ms. Campbell also thanked members for their time and advice.

Date of next meeting

The next on-line meeting will be held on Thursday 19 November 2020 from 14:00 to 16:00.

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