Hello, let me tell you something about myself.  My name is Brian Scott, I’m a father to two eating machines known as teenage boys.  I’m an ex-nurse, having been medically discharged after an accident I had at work, which has meant I’m now on benefits.

I’m also an anti-poverty activist and I volunteer with the Poverty Truth Community (PTC) in Glasgow.  I’ve been with them for the past 3-4 years.  Volunteering with the PTC has meant I’ve been lucky enough to work with other organisations and with the policy makers within the Scottish Government.  If you would give me a minute of your time I’d like to tell you about one opportunity I had to work with the Civil Servants who provide advice and guidance to ministers within the Scottish Government,

The PTC and the Scottish Civil Service had a joint project called the ‘Mutual Mentoring Scheme’ (MMS),  I had the opportunity to take part in this scheme about 2 years ago,  So what’s this Mutual Mentoring   Scheme I hear you ask (you probably haven’t but let’s just pretend you did!).  The MMS paired community members within the PTC with civil servants within the various Scottish Government departments with the intention of sharing a piece of each other’s lives and experiences.

I was fortunate enough to be paired with a lovely man from the Policy Development Unit called Tim.  During the time that we paired up I took him around the Housing Estate where I lived, introduced him to local activists, groups within the community etc.  I think you can say, Tim had the opportunity to meet many varied and interesting people and he told me afterwards some of the stories he was told were shocking and heartbreaking.  Also,  actually seeing for himself (if only for a short while) life within an area of high deprivation and unemployment was a total culture shock for him and provided him with much food for thought to take back to his workplace.

I was very lucky to take part in the MMS during the time that the legislation for the newly devolved Disability and Housing Benefit powers were returned to Holyrood.  Through, Tim, I was asked to take part in various activities and workshops with other Civil Servants as they sought to put together the Disability and Welfare Bill which would go on to become legislation.   It was a real eye-opening experience (I know I’ve used that term before but it’s the best expression I can think of to explain my experiences with the MMS – if you’re fed up reading it feel free to replace it with another phrase like oh I don’t know – “Kentucky Fried Chicken”).  During that period I was asked to take part in various workshops where head Civil Servants from the various departments came together with other organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group, One Parent Families and the PTC (me!!!!!).  It was a great learning experience seeing how legislation is put together and all the issues that legislators have to be aware of.  When the welfare powers where initially brought back to Holyrood I was very critical when the Scottish Government announced that it would take 3 years before they would be implemented.  I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just use them as soon as they get them – people need help now, not in three years.  Well, after seeing all the work the Scottish Civil Service does in the background and all the issues they have to be aware of, well, I can honestly say, I’m surprised that they were able to bring the Welfare Powers to legislation in ONLY three years!

One of the most fulfilling experiences I had during that time was when Tim gave me the opportunity to address a meeting of the Senior Directors of the various Civil Service Departments.  As well as me, there were 3 other people giving presentations.  I was asked to speak about my experiences of exercising and using power within community to influence change at both a local and national level.  I started off by saying that my presentation would be very short as I didn’t feel that the people within my community were really listened to or were able to affect change.  Of course, the rest of my talk was about my experiences growing up in a housing estate and outlining incidents where the wants and needs of the community were ridden over in a roughshod manner.  The other speakers (The NHS, Oxfam Scotland, and an Academic from a Central Scotland University), gave their presentations and all their studies and feedback reflected everything I was talking about during my piece.

If you get a chance to experience life on the other side of the fence, whether it be partnering with someone from the Scottish Govt, or the DWP – in fact, any agency, I would grab it with both hands.  It is such a great learning experience as, from my perspective, everyone benefits.  Also, you never know, you could just make another friend.