Money for Moray came into existence in 2016. Who started it and why? Was there a specific occasion/event/reason?
Alastair Kennedy: I chair and represent The Joint Community Councils of Moray (JCC) which is an overarching body and each Community Council in Moray is a member. I was asked by an officer from the Local Authority if I would be interested in leading on a Participatory Budgeting (PB) initiative as there was a plan to spend some funding using the PB system. I had done some research into PB when I was studying for a Social Sciences degree as a mature student. I said I would be very interested as I had some understanding of how PB worked and how it contributed to participative democracy.However, I believed it would require a broader representation of the general public in the area so I invited representation from other overarching bodies/groups. I had replies from fifteen people from various organisations who were interested so the fifteen people were set up as a new group.
How is the team build up? Who has which responsibilities?
I set up the group as a very democratic group and ensured that at most meetings a different member chaired/facilitated the meetings. Part of the reason for doing this was to ensure members of the group became empowered and their confidence grew. During an exercise tasks are divided up so that every member undertakes a share of the work. To date all tasks have been volunteered for so it is more likely that members are told they have done enough and not to volunteer for a new task. One member's husband builds websites for a living and he built one and looks after it for us so we only require to pay for the domain name. The lady in question usually lands with all of the advertising/IT work because of the circumstance. However, I remain the default chair with ultimate responsibility for the funding.
Do you cooperate with other pb projects, in Scotland or abroad? If so, what kind of cooperation do you have with them?
We have only co-operated in as much as moving the date of a PB event because it clashed with another PB event. Four of us were invited to travel to Dundee to give some training on PB to a group of people from the Church of Scotland who wished to undertake a PB exercise. Basically, we have not co-operated with any other projects.
How do you acquire the funds? And how did you convince politicians to support your initiative?
Our very first PB exercise was to use money from our Local Authority which had been matched by the Scottish Government. That was when I set up the group and we split the funding into two amounts and created two events. Most of our funds have come from the Scottish Governments pot of funding for PB. We applied each year. One year we were unsuccessful but were offered a small amount of money as costs if we would work to ensure local people were kept aware of PB. We also did some work with locally elected representatives to get them informed about PB and how it works as well as various officers from the Local Authority.
How do you get people to participate, especially young people in the area?
We advertise as widely as possible when we access funding and ask for applications. People in the area are becoming more and more aware of PB and we normally get some applications from young people. I managed to succeed in an application for funding just prior to the outbreak of Covid 19 and we had intended "giving" one third of the money over to young people with the caveat that it was used to promote equality and a fairer society. This was to follow on from an earlier PB initiative where funding was accessed by a youth worker and each secondary school was given an amount of money. The young applicants held a market place event in each school and voting was done electronically with visitors being given a number to allow them to vote. The young people used the number on their Young Scot cards to vote.
Can anyone send in applications?
When we advertise for applications, we always have a theme that applicants must follow. For example, we had a theme on " economic development" and another time we used "alleviating social isolation". Each applicant must explain in the application how they are following the theme that is current at the time and each application is checked to ensure the information does indeed follow the theme.
Do applications or applicants have to meet certain criteria?
Apart from the theme we also have certain criteria. For example, we do not permit applications from large national charities or formal businesses. Applicants must either have their own bank account or have a formal group/agency willing to use their bank. Another example is we only allow a single application per organisation. Over the years the criteria have changed as we learn from experience and we dropped the original maximum amount that could be applied for so the money gets spread wider. However, not every applicant asks for the maximum and the last event the applicant with the most votes wanted quite a small sum of money.
Can you describe the exact process?
On the day of the event every person in the venue gets a voting paper. Each applicant gets up on stage and makes their pitch on why they should get funded. Some will request a maximum and some will not. When that has finished every person with a voting sheet are asked to vote for their preferred 10 applications. This is to stop an applicant having lots of supporters attend to sway the vote. Because their supporters must vote for another 9 applications it stops that happening. Any voting sheet with the wrong number of votes is discounted. The votes are then added up. The application with the highest number of votes gets funded followed by the next and the next and so on until all the money is allocated. The last application may not get the full amount if there isn't quite enough money left but they get the amount which is still available.
Do you think M4M has been successful in reaching people to participate more in their own communities? How is the resonance? Which subjects are people most interested in?
I believe the group has encouraged more localised community participation as there are many people with good ideas who simply need a small amount of money to get their idea launched. For example, when we used "alleviating social isolation" as a theme at least two new groups were started who had ideas which were helping towards working with people who are socially isolated and these groups are still in existence and still doing what they were set up to do. The new exercise was to promote equality and fairness and I believe we will be able to reach groups who don't have the confidence to apply before. We have worked with agencies like a food bank and a school bank to make contact with such groups and they will be offered help to apply. Overall I believe we have been quite successful in increasing participation in communities.Each event creates a "buzz" in the room and people seems to enjoy themselves as feedback has been good. I think that we get people who are interested in whatever the theme is on the day.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Our biggest challenge has been persuading the Local Authority to undertake a proper PB exercise as required by the Scottish Government. Neither officers or elected members (local councillors) are keen to relinquish the small amount of power required. However, we have worked with the finance officer responsible for setting budgets and he is now a strong believer in PB. He has agreed to run a pilot PB exercise with the intention of learning from it to set up PB in allocating mainstream budgets. He put a paper before the relevant committee and, as we had lobbied the committee members, the paper was agreed. The pilot would have been rolled out by now had it not been for the pandemic stopping it happening.
Which ambitions/goals do you have for the future?
I would dearly love to see many members of the public participating in mainstream PB and understanding the opportunity to influence how public money is spent. I think some people will be reluctant as local authorities have a poor history of public engagement and participation. I also think a great deal will depend on the success of the pilot exercise but our group will be involved in organising it so that is a first step towards public participation.
One last question: How do you deal with the current Corona crisis? Were there significant changes to your work and in people's attitudes towards the project?
As I mentioned earlier, we accessed a significant amount of money just prior to the pandemic. We have been on hold until we see what the "new normal" might be but I suspect we'll have to do things very differently and it looks as if we will have to change to a digital exercise. Even before the pandemic I had early discussions with the officer involved with Young Scot about the young people having a digital exercise. They are able to vote digitally using their Young Scot cards and this has been done in the area before. We may well have to set up something similar for our exercise. I've had a small amount of training on CONSUL so we may be able to use that as our platform.
Is there anything you would like to add?
What we have found over the six exercises we've organised is that people who don't acquire enough votes to get funded understand the process and we've had no complaints from any of them.I am a strong believer in democracy and thereby a strong believer in PB. From my point of view there is no sense in setting up a group to organise PB unless they all have a firm belief in the process.
The interview was conducted by Daniela Himbert. Many thanks to Alastair Kennedy!