Participatory budgeting directly involves local people in making decisions about the public money being spent in their community. Involving the residents of an area-or community-to participate in the debate about what needs to be done and take decisions on the allocation of at least some of the available public funding. Peoples Budgeting should aim to increase public knowledge about how our taxes are spent. So information must be simple to understand, relevant and easy to get hold of. For example written in plain English, be up to date and in sufficient but not too much detail. Participatory Budgeting is all about local politicians and public employees being more accountable. That means discussions about the public budget should take place in the communities they affect, not behind closed doors.
Participatory Budgeting is about making sure local people have a fair opportunity to have their say and make a real contribution. That means they are involved before decisions are made, not asked afterwards for their opinion. Everyone has a chance to be heard, and given the time they need and the respect they deserve to participate. Community and small scale grants are vital to local communities. Having a People’s Budget means a lot more could be done to open up the decision making about local grants. How do you have your say? We know every year public bodies spend millions of pounds in our name. Looking at public budgets I find that 95% of local public expenditure is beyond the direct influence of local people. Sometimes this is because of the rules imposed by central government on local authorities. Statutory regulations and laws place most public money beyond direct democratic influence by citizens. So we elect local councillors and we pay professionals to help manage the more complex problems for us. That is what a representative democracy does well most of the time. Saying local people can always have direct control over all public money is not very realistic. But about 5% of public expenditure every year is up for grabs, and not yet committed, so is available to invest in new services or in new needs within the community. This ‘investment’ budget is where deliberative and democratic processes (like Participatory Budgeting) operate best, and where some real change becomes possible.
The ‘trick’ is to design strong decision-making processes that ensures public investment isn’t captured by vested interests who naturally want to use it for their own benefit. That’s where The People’s Budget comes in. Helping you design better Participatory Budgeting processes that will work in your community to empower citizens.
Ask your councillor what scheme(s) he/she has voted for. Were you asked? Do you agree with the decisions? It is YOUR money and you have the right to know how it is spent.