Innovation Exchange

Uist and Barra Public Bus Redesign Project


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


Further Information

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.

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Theme: Community Planning and Empowerment and Service Transformation

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.


Suppliers are able to respond to public demand more easily.

The Process

Introducing this process for the first time requires a much longer lead in time.  If using this approach for a contract then plenty of time for slippage needs to be built in to the project plan.


Full engagement in remote/rural areas can be very labour intensive.  Taking the process out to communities in the first tranche of our process involved colleagues spending a full week undertaking consultation meetings.


It can be challenging to get people to focus on outcomes (the problems they want to solve) rather than service delivery methods they’ve experienced in the past.



It is possible to use a PB approach as part of a public procurement exercise.  PB works at the specification, evaluation and contract management stages of the process.


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.


Capacity building may be required to support suppliers to tender if an outcome/output approach is used to specifying the scope of requirements.

Service delivery can use innovative ways to ensure that outcomes that meet the needs of the community and are determined by the community.


Communities are keen to participate. There is a need to ensure there is ongoing support to the community, suppliers and departments through officers who have the expertise in various community engagement techniques.


The methodology used enables capacity building and greater engagement within the communities.

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:


Lesley McDonald

Head of Executive Office

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

01851 822604

Case study added to site: June 2016

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