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Different PB Processes

Participatory Budgeting can be applied to many different contexts where priorities have to be made and budgets set in the allocation of public funds. Most, but not all, of the PB initiatives in the UK to date have been applied to the allocation of small grants.

Community eventThe dispersal of these funds through small grants schemes have served to mobilise citizens to set priorities for their neighbourhoods and to allocate funds for projects that meet those priorities. These small grants schemes have demonstrated that PB can be successfully used to distribute limited amounts of money to defined neighbourhoods.  But PB can be scaled up and applied to the allocation of devolved mainstream budgets, the annual local authority budget consultation and local area agreements. There are also possibilities for PB to be applied to public budgets beyond those controlled by local authorities such as some police, health and housing association expenditure.

Small Grants Schemes

Participatory budgeting small grants schemes have been set up using money allocated from a variety of sources including neighbourhood renewal funds, community council precepts, local strategic partnerships, neighbourhood management funds, new deal for communities funds and housing funds. They provide an immediate connection between decision making and spending, are highly participatory and create a real local feel to the process of allocating resources. Small grants schemes help foster social cohesion as they bring local people together and they can help to develop a closer working relationship between officers, councillors and the community. These schemes can be applied to geographical neighbourhoods and also to communities of interest such as children and young people.

However, small grants schemes are by their very nature limited in their scope. They are not linked to mainstream budgets or city-wide themes or priorities and often they are dependent on time limited funding so may not be repeatable. These processes also tend to be resource intensive for relatively small amounts of money. But small grants schemes, using PB, provide a useful and important first stepping stone to scale up to more ambitious activities. They also give citizens the experience and knowledge to get involved in wider (across the local authority area) and deeper (larger allocation of main stream money) PB processes.

Devolved Mainstream Budgets

Participatory Budgeting can be applied to some local authority main stream budgets. Part of these budgets can be “top-sliced” and allocated to wards or neighbourhoods to be spent according to residents’ priorities. In this way residents influence the council’s departmental priorities. In 2005 part of Salford’s highways budget was devolved to a community committee in the neighbourhood Claremont and Weaste where local people prioitised and choose new road and traffic management schemes to spend the money on.

Creating devolved mainstream budgets can involve new investment money and not just revenue funding for existing services. The scope for this type of PB activity is potentially wide and could include sections of environmental, leisure and recreation budgets and housing budgets.

Annual Budget Priority setting

Most local authorities carry out a yearly budget consultation with the public. But this is often limited to paper correspondence and has a limited time scale. If the consultation process started at the beginning of the budget year, instead of the end, there would be scope to apply a PB process. Such an approach would help to develop a more mature debate about the whole of the council budget and the use of local taxes. Residents’ assemblies or similar structures would have to be organised across the local authority area with a representative residents’ forum coordinating the priorities and decisions and monitoring progress on budget expenditure. This type of PB exercise would be require developing residents understanding local authority income, expenditure and budgets and might involve budget literacy programmes to provide people with the necessary background knowledge.  With this kind of activity, although residents may only have direct say over a small proportion (for example 2-5%) of discretionary budgets, they would need to be aware of what the rest of the budget is spent on in order to make informed decisions. 

Local Area Agreements

Local Area Agreements (LAAs) are agreements that are drawn up between the government and local strategic partnerships (LSPs) on key national and local targets. From 2007 LSPs (a partnership of statutory and non-statutory agencies)  have become a mandatory requirement for all local authority areas and it’s their duty to develop and monitor action plans, that is the LAA. The overall aim of the LAA is to deliver better local services in an area through improved partnership working.

Local Area Agreements and PB share many common principles including: an emphasis on meeting local priorities, area based working, partnership, strong local accountability to communities, revitalising local democracy, community engagement, streamlining of funding and making the best use of resources.

LAA provide “wider” and “deeper” opportunities to apply PB processes to the pooled budgets of local authorities, primary health care trusts and the police. Since LAA function on a 3 year cycle, longer term PB processes could be adopted that include reviews and monitoring of budgets and expenditure.

Other Options for Participatory Budgeting

Other possible options for using a participatory budgeting approach include the allocation of funds from the following:

  • The Neighbourhood Police Budget (especially relating to community safety), possibly through a neighbourhood management scheme as recommended in the Flanagan Report
  • Specific areas of Primary Care Trust budgets
  • Youth Opportunity Fund and the Youth Capital Fund which central government has set up to give young people money for activities and facilities  in their neighbourhoods. The idea is that these funds also involve young people in the funding decisions
  • Housing Association budgets where tenants might be involved in setting priories and budgets for communal facilities, environmental improvements and housing renovation programmes.


Local Authorities are not confined to choosing one particular PB option. A selection of initiatives could run in tandem. But all options need a political will and an investment of time and energy on the part of officers, elected members and local residents.

Neighbourhood charters, set-up under some LSPs,  provide a bottom up mechanism to involve local communities in prioritising services and outcomes for their local areas. 

To see some examples of PB projects which have happened in the UK, including photos and videos, please click here


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Copyright 2008, Church Action on Povery. Cite/attribute Resource. Ruth. (2008, April 21). Different PB Processes. Retrieved February 07, 2010, from Participatory Budgeting Unit Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License
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