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An evaluation of Glasgow City participatory budgeting pilot wards 2018/19

Harkins C. A GCPH report for Glasgow City Council: An evaluation of Glasgow City participatory budgeting pilot wards 2018/19. Glasgow; GCPH: 2019.

Summary and key points

• In recent years the Scottish Government has set out an unprecedented level of political, legislative and investment support for community empowerment, participation and the strengthening of local democratic processes. Participatory budgeting (PB) has emerged as a principal approach in achieving these goals and has gained significant traction and support across Scotland.

• PB is a process that involves citizens in deciding how to spend public money. PB is driven by the desire to reallocate public money locally and democratically to priority initiatives, projects and services identified by local people.

• In 2018 the Council committed one million pounds to the development of four PB pilot areas (within council wards; Calton, Canal, Greater Pollok and Pollokshields) to inform the development of PB across the City moving forward. We were commissioned to independently evaluate the process learning from the four PB pilot areas. This report presents the findings of the evaluation.

• The pilot areas were delivered in a partnership approach by the Council, local anchor organisations and third sector specialist equalities groups. The pilots adopted a citizens’ panel approach to PB, where small groups of community members represented the wider community in the planning, development and implementation of the overall PB process.

• The dedication of the partners involved and the authenticity and quality of the PB processes developed within the pilot areas was evident. Those leading the PB pilots and the equalities agencies involved have consistently ‘gone the extra mile’ to deliver the highest quality PB processes within the time and resource constraints. The community members who formed the citizens’ panels deserve recognition for the time and energy they have given to these PB processes.

• Glasgow City Council has demonstrated a strong commitment to promoting inclusive and accessible PB. The pilots have been delivered within disadvantaged geographical communities or have been targeted at often-excluded communities of interest and identity who face significant and multiple barriers to participation. These PB pilot areas have been chosen with a clear objective of addressing inequalities through the PB process. The Council is working with communities, anchor organisations and specialist partner equalities organisations to enable all citizens to exercise right to participate in local decision-making.

•The PB pilots are a rich source of learning and highlight important considerations moving forward with PB in Glasgow City. The pilot areas were unanimous in stating that the level of funding allocated to support the development of citizens’ panels and the implementation of the PB processes should have been higher. Relatedly, the timescales in which the pilot areas were expected to deliver the PB processes were consistently described as ‘too tight’. The citizens’ panel members would also have welcomed stronger communication from the Council throughout the implementation of the PB processes. In addition, there was uncertainty around the capital and revenue funding constraints imposed on the PB processes which was described as restrictive.  

• There are strengths to approaching PB at a Council ward level, but the pilot areas have also highlighted some challenges. Council wards include multiple communities or neighbourhoods and the boundaries of Council wards frequently cut across communities. This presents some difficulties for PB, and for the development of citizens’ panels, if the boundaries of the ward are to be adhered to exactly.

• The role of local elected representatives within a more direct democratic structure such as PB has not been clear in Scotland, nor was it clear within the PB pilot ward areas. Councillors had limited involvement in the PB pilot areas.

• Learning from the PB pilots suggests that care must be taken to ensure that the inequalities focus within defined communities is clear at the outset. This should involve working with expert equalities agencies during the planning of PB as well as in the implementation. A lack of clarity as to the inequalities vision and aims of the Pollokshields PB pilot has caused significant delays in that ward.

• The citizens’ panel approach proved to be a strong PB model in which the processes were tailored to the local community context and where community interests and priorities are represented throughout the process before voting takes place. The citizens’ panels had a strong emphasis on dialogue and deliberation which allowed exploration, discovery, learning and scrutiny, which in turn produced more robust, informed and considered PB decisionmaking. • The PB pilot leads have developed supportive, authentic and trusted relationships with the citizens’ panel members – this has been an important factor in the success of the pilots. Amid the largely technical narratives that surround the imminent mainstreaming of PB, the approaches developed in the pilots represent a timely reminder that effective PB is about communities and people’s lives and is built upon relationships.

• This report emphasises that like any democratic process, PB is an imperfect process and there is much to be learned from the pilot areas which can be adapted and improved moving forward with the next iterations of PB within the City. The recommendations within this report are based on the learning points described above, these include continuation and expansion of ward-based citizens’ PB panels, increasing PB capacity building and process timescales and establishing a Glasgow PB learning network and external evaluation support.

• An over-arching priority within the recommendations is to develop a city-wide PB strategy. In keeping with the ethos and vision demonstrated in the pilot wards, this should be underpinned by an equalities framework and co-produced with equalities agencies, anchor organisations and with communities. Through the progressive PB developed in the pilot wards it is clear that Glasgow City Council has a strong and clear vision for inclusive, accessible and inequalities-focused PB. Building upon the development of the City’s PB strategic plan, Glasgow can potentially lead the way in addressing the national ‘leadership gap’ concerning the transition towards the target of 1% of council budgets being allocated via PB by 2021.

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