I’ve long thought that it’s very unfair when a sports reporter collars the marathon runner at the finishing line and asks ‘how was your race?’ The runner will invariably be bent double, hands on knees gasping for air and looking for the sweet relief of water and space to breathe. When the runner eventually looks up he or she will stare off in to the distance to compose themselves and to formulate the words which will convey the enormity of the experience. I think I was that sports reporter at the last meeting of PB Advisory Group (April 2017), I asked: ‘Well, how was the PB process for you?’ There was a long silence, and several of the members stared off into the distance, they needed time to formulate the words that could convey the enormity of the experience.
After a suitable pause, we learned that between February and March this year East Ayrshire Council and partners held 17 PB events in different communities, the events attracted thousands of participants and allocated around £120,000 to small community groups who would not normally have had access to this type of funding. There were similar reports from Glasgow City Council, Moray TSI and North Ayrshire Council. The main learning point from the Group was that PB is an immensely rewarding process for staff, volunteers and the community groups involved. However the process could be even better if there was greater appreciation, from decision makers locally and at Government level, that:
- PB involves a sizable organisational effort involving staff & volunteers from different disciplines and that this therefore requires time, planning and resources to make things happen.
- Those who are expected to lead on the 2nd round of PB funding need to know as early as possible. The 1st round of PB was too rushed.
- Supporting the capacity of community groups to present well and market their organisation is vital and will yield positive results for them.
- There are still many areas in Scotland who have no idea what PB is and will therefore need a dedicated effort to raise awareness and support local groups to get involved.
These insights are really useful because they come from the PB practitioners in our communities that make up the membership of the PB Advisory Group. The Group has a specific role to be a strong voice for practitioners, to advocate on behalf of the 318 members of the PB network and to contribute to a vision for PB in Scotland.
In true Marathon runner style, the PB Advisory Group are turning their energy towards the next big challenge (Marathon) and started to discuss what ‘Mainstream PB’ means in practice. Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government and Housing, said in 2016:
“I want us to be ambitious in what we do which is why we are committed to ensuring local authorities have a target of giving at least 1% of their budget to Community Choices. This amounts to tens of millions of pounds which will be in the hands of local people to decide how best to spend that money in their communities, on their priorities.”
Despite this statement and the resources available on the PB Scotland website there is a lack of clarity about the details of what Mainstreaming actually means in practice. We have examples from Paris, South America and Portugal but Scotland will undoubtedly have its own approach.
PB Partners describe the challenge of Mainstream PB as a process which will enable citizens to have their say, and be involved at all stages of the commissioning cycle. "The challenge is to move from ‘participatory grant making’ which we have seen through ‘Community Choices’ to scaling up the influence of citizens over the ‘mainstream’ money spent by public bodies, which annually reaches into billions of pounds."
Given the scale of the challenge the Advisory Group want more detail on the 1% and are now asking if this is a figure which will be applied to local authorities only or if it should involve all public bodies. As we move forward to the next 'Marathon' the Advisory Group are looking for clarity about the road ahead and a coherent message of support for PB from Scottish Government, CoSLA, Audit Scotland and the inspection and improvement agencies. The Advisory Group are clear that Scotland's communities like PB, it's good for our communities and our democracy but we need a road map and time to prepare for the new terrain which is Mainstream PB.