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September 24, 2008

Decisions on spending to be made at community level

New steps were announced this week by Communities Minister Hazel Blears as part of a nationwide drive to put more power into the hands of local people. Initially a pilot with the aim of rolling it out to all communities in England by 2012, local people are to be given new powers over how local budgets are spent

Participatory budgeting

New steps were announced this week as part of a nationwide drive to put more power into the hands of local people. This comes ahead of legislation later this year to ‘put communities in control’.

Hazel Blears announced:
Twelve ‘participatory budgeting’ or ‘community kitties’ pilot areas are to be established, actively engaging with local people in how public money is spent. These pilot areas will now work with the help and guidance of the Participatory Budgeting unit, letting their communities choose from ‘dragon’s den’ style pitches for council cash: Different local groups can make proposals for a portion of public budgets, and local people can consider which ones they feel will best meet the area’s priorities and needs – such as recycling projects, health projects, local environmental issues or children’s services.

All of this puts more control into the hands of the community. It’s clear that people want to be more involved in the decisions that affect their local area – Nearly three quarters of people feel they should be able to influence how council tax is spent, and over two fifths would personally like to be involved.

Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears said:
“I want to see a new relationship between Government and the people it serves – more doors open to active citizens, more opportunities for people to have a say in the issues they care about, and power increasingly exercised not by a well-meaning executive on the community’s behalf, but with and by and through people themselves. Not just because this is the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.

“Residents are happier with their local area when they are given more say and more control over local decisions. Getting involved in the public spending process will give people a better understanding of, and more confidence in the choices their local authorities make.

“Our ambition is for ‘community kitties’ to be a reality in every area by 2012 – These pilots will put more local people in the driving seat, giving them the knowledge and the experience to get involved, and will help bring devolution to the doorstep.”

Many of the new Participatory Budgeting pilot areas are already delivering real benefits in engaging with the local community:
Haringey allocates funding of £50k under the Making the Difference scheme through each of its seven area assemblies on environmental and community priorities.

The Walsall New Deal for Communities participatory budgeting process, involves eight local primary schools to help 6 – 12 year olds collectively to decide how to spend £15,000.

They learn about taking collective decisions, and build confidence and awareness of their community

Norfolk County Council has agreed to allocate £200,000 via participatory budgeting throughout the council area in support of its local area agreement targets.

See more here