In 2008, a Scottish government scheme on health inequalities called ‘Equally Well' ran a pilot participatory budget scheme in Govanhill. This was in response to the clear social, economic and health inequalities which characterised the area, relative to the Scottish national average. In 2010 the Govanhill Community Action (GoCA) group was given £200,000 of government funding to spend on local projects.
GoCA was made up of representatives from local community groups in Govanhill and was held accountable for its spend by the local community. The group was supported by Oxfam's UK Poverty Programme in Scotland, which helped facilitate the participatory budgeting process and bridged the perceived gap between public sector workers and GoCA members. Including the formation of GoCA, engaging the wider community, and allowing time for members of the community to participate, the entire process took six months.
The members of GoCA welcomed the responsibility enthusiastically.
The group was strategic in their allocation of funds and used them to respond to what they saw as local priorities. They decided to fund projects which directly affected the lives of the community residents rather than the physical environment. They focused their funding on four main projects including an Addictions Family Support Group, a Community Justice Partnership, regeneration of a locally significant public baths, and a range of health and wellbeing programmes at the newly refurbished baths.
The participatory budgeting process was found to be an effective method of engaging local residents – involving them in both expressing what the local priorities are, as well as shaping and delivering local services and projects. Additionally, the process increased levels of volunteering in communities which have often been perceived to be resistant to such engagement.
Participatory budgeting also increased transparency within local democratic processes. The presentation of project proposals, discussion and decision making all took place in an open forum. However, the ballot box voting method used in Porto Alegre was still seen to be a better option as some community members found it hard to participate in the open discussion.
- Local authorities giving local groups and individuals increased responsibility can lead to greater enthusiasm and engagement amongst residents, even in situations where residents have previously expressed disaffection or disengagement.
- Participatory budgeting can divert funding to where citizens feel it is most needed, in line with the vision of devolution as a way of improving the effectiveness of government spending decisions through local control.
- Holding the discussion and decision making in an open forum increases transparency and therefore the legitimacy of the decisions made but can make voting difficult for some participations. Ballot box voting following open deliberation may be the best approach, especially when involving diverse groups of people.