The Uist and Barra Public Bus Service Redesign project has used innovative methods to improve service outcomes for rural communities through procuring services in a new way.
By using participatory budgeting methodology the community has had the opportunity to be fully involved in the design and procurement of their bus services. Together with the use of an output performance specification in the procurement process and extensive engagement with suppliers this has made the project an innovative piece of work, addressing some of the key issues that face rural communities and their ability to access services.
A Participatory Budgeting approach to designing the service was undertaken with a wide range of opportunities for communities to provide input to the specification for the bus contracts. This included:
- a household questionnaire being issued to every home;
- numerous engagement events to enable people to indicate what they would most like from a bus service (targeting specific minority groups such as young people and older people);
- a second round of events where the community voted on various priorities and service delivery options, as well as the weighting within the procurement process;
- engagement with suppliers to develop their capacity to tender for outcome specification contracts;
- engagement through the use of social media; and
- tender assessment panels being made up of only community members, who determined to whom tenders should be awarded.
The innovative approach enabled community members to effect change on a bus service that many felt was not meeting their needs. Already there is a reported increase in uptake following introduction of the new timetables. The contracts commenced on 25 March 2016. In the longer term it is hoped to use the participatory budget methodology to enable communities to become more involved in determining the outcomes of other aspects of service delivery. The community has gained an understanding of public sector procurement processes and suppliers are able to respond to public demand more easily.
Key learning included that procurement professionals need to present information about the process in a way which makes it accessible to those participating. This means removing the technical and legal information from what is provided to focus their attention on the parts where they have decision making power and can make real choices.