It is a decade on from the publication of the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services, and the Scottish Government's response to this. The Christie Commission principles – a focus on people, performance, partnership and the prevention of harm – continue to shape the Public Service Reform agenda in Scotland. At the heart of this is the recognition that no single actor can achieve transformational change alone, and that people should be involved in and able to influence the decisions affecting them.
Ensuring that public services are delivering what people need to improve their lives and outcomes remains a vital driver of reform. There is broad acceptance that this means significant changes to the ways that policies and services are developed and implemented, with the role of partners, stakeholders and the people affected evermore vital.
It is recognised that new skills and processes are needed to further drive change and ensure everyone in Scotland can be involved in decisions that matter to them. Much has been done already. The Community Empowerment Act has provided opportunities for individuals and communities to effect change. A review of the Community Empowerment Act is currently underway, offering an opportunity to consider how we embed public participation in decision making. Scottish Government has also developed advice and guidance for public servants as their role has changed. This includes a Participation Framework and the Scottish Approach to Service Design. There have been a range of innovative participatory and deliberative processes, including two Citizens' Assemblies, Citizens' Juries, mini-publics, user research, service design, lived experience panels and participatory budgeting. People have been actively involved in the development of policies such as the new National Care Service, and the Promise to care experienced children and young people that they will grow up loved, safe, and respected. Our digital consultation hub has been running for six years and we have incorporated digital engagement activities like online crowdsourcing into the policy development process.
Scottish Government recognises that involving the people of Scotland in decisions that affect them is key to delivering a stronger and more resilient Scotland. The benefits of participatory and deliberative engagements are wide ranging. We are living in times characterised by many complex, interlinked challenges: the climate emergency, substantial economic turmoil and the cost of living crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and its legacies, as well as the continued impact of Brexit. By drawing on the considered views of the public, the government will be better equipped to take the complex and difficult decisions that we are facing. Public understanding and input into these difficult decisions can help us chart a route through that is fairer and that meets the fullest range of peoples' needs.
It is vital that people feel listened to at a time when feelings of powerlessness and frustration can take hold. This will in turn improve public trust in government and will strengthen Scotland's democracy, fundamental at a time when misinformation is circulating widely and global public confidence in government is uncertain.
Scottish Government has committed to increasing the use of participatory processes to deliver priority policies, to holding annual Citizens' Assemblies, and a Citizens' Assembly for under 16s. The IPDD working group was set up to make recommendations and outline practical steps and resources required to deliver these commitments. Their report makes 19 recommendations across two key themes: embedding a range of participatory and democratic innovations, which can be used as a basis to establish routine use of Citizens' Assemblies in Scotland.
This document sets out what the Scottish Government will now do to deliver its commitments on participatory and deliberative democracy, responding to each recommendation. Where a response covers multiple recommendations, this is noted. While the delivery of some of these recommendations will sit with Scottish Government, many of the longer term recommendations reflect the need for this work to be collaboratively delivered across a broad range of stakeholders, public institutions and the people of Scotland.
This work is important and complex and it may take time to get right – this response is one step in that process. The financial situation facing the Scottish Government is, by far, the most challenging since devolution. As a result of inflation, at the time of its announcement the 2022-23 budget was worth significantly less than when it was introduced to Parliament in December 2021.
Participation is important if we are to make the fairest use of available resources now and in the future. Ambitions for participatory and deliberative democracy have, like many other areas of government, been subject to difficult re-prioritisation. Where we have not been able to commit to the delivery of a recommendation that we agree is of importance in the short term, there remains a commitment to revisit this work when public finances allow.
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