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Participatory budgeting UK

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What is participatory budgeting?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a mechanism of local government, which brings local communities closer to the decision-making process around the public budget.

It is a flexible process, which has been implemented in varying forms across cities of all sizes, within Brazil and beyond. It works to enhance participation in local democracy whilst improving community cohesion and ensuring the delivery of cost-effective local services.

Some of the proposed benefits of PB can be summarised as:

· Enhancement of participation in local decision-making, reducing the so-called 'democratic deficit';

· A better focus on issues of social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal, bringing clear benefits to the poorest neighbourhoods;

· Cost-efficient improvements in service delivery.

Internationally PB has achieved recognition by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the World Bank, the UN, UNESCO and others, and is widely cited as a model of good practise in local governance.

Some of its main features include:

· A clearly defined geographical structure, complementing political boundaries, which facilitates decision-making and service delivery.

· The development of well supported, popular city-wide meetings and debates, to involve local communities in discussion on thematic issues (transport, education, waste disposal etc.), to decide strategic priorities, develop actions plans and evaluate and monitor on-going activity, in a manner which complements existing representative democratic structures.

· A widely understood Annual Cycle which provides a framework for participation, planning and implementation, not only for the local authorities but also to facilitate local involvement.

· A network of support agencies involved in local capacity-building and the communication and promotion of policy information and practice.

· A budget matrix, which processes local priorities into a comprehensive table to inform expenditure across the city and across established themes.

The PB Unit was set up to raise awareness of PB and what it can offer citizens and service providers. In the UK participatory budgeting is still a novel idea - of uniting local knowledge with public money and technical ability.

So far participatory grant making has been the most common experience of PB in the UK. A number of local authorities, local strategic partnerships and regeneration agencies are now using it to improve their engagement with residents.

People are more likely to value public services if they are given a stake in them. Local authorities everywhere face similar limitations on their tax-raising powers to those in the UK. But where PB has been successfully established for a number of years tax receipts have sometimes increased alongside social improvements.

The transparency of PB makes it attractive to all. The amount of the public budget apportioned by PB varies from city to city. Typically PB works with small amounts of the annual revenue budget of the city, though this varies with the situation. Participants in PB commonly debate only new investment, not already committed or statutory defined expenditure.


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Glossary of PB terms

The Annual Cycle
A well publicised cycle of meetings, aimed at producing a report that influences how Council Service Departments spend money

Budget matrix
An allocation table which records priorities against themes, and balances these against other influences, to prepare a budget plan

Budget council
a body drawn from representatives of local groups, which meets to calculate the participatory budget investment plan

Community network
A defined list of community groups, which can participate in the annual cycle, based on geography or community of interest

Investment pot
new money, not directed by existing patterns of expenditure, that might be made available to the PB process for investment within a particular year