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Risks and Challenges of PB

Participatory Budgeting for many is a new idea and a new way of planning and budgeting and like all new things it comes with some risks and challenges. But to be forewarned is to be forearmed.


Speaker at Poulton PB event
Viewed as another bandwagon


Many people, especially those living in the more deprived communities, have been “consulted” endlessly about such things as housing, crime the environment and community facilities. There is a risk that people may view PB as just another bandwagon. Any new PB process needs to prove that it is not just another consultation exercise but that it works by delivering not just the views but the services and facilities that people want. Communities need to see that PB is worth the effort.


Lack of support from Councillors and Senior Officers


Elected members and officers with responsibility for budgets may be half hearted or even hostile at first but they need to see that in the end PB will help them and the people that they represent and serve by delivering the services and facilities that are really wanted or needed. Hostile or uncooperative councillors or officers could seriously jeopardise a PB programme but at the same time it is important to include them from the beginning of the process.


Hijacked by special interest groups


There is always a risk that special interest groups could hijack a PB process but checks and balances should be built in to the priority setting procedure and voting system to avoid this from happening. This is easier to manage at a neighbourhood level than at a city level. In a local authority wide PB process participants may not always be from the most disadvantaged areas and the agenda might be set by those wanting overall cuts in services. It then falls to the elected members of the council to make a political decision on overall levels of expenditure.


Top down


Participatory Budgeting has always been initiated by a “top down” procedure and therefore runs the risk of being seen as an imposition by the council. But if PB processes are developed with citizens (through a steering group of residents, councillors, officers, partners etc) then ownership should be mutual and not necessarily seen as solely a process of the council.


To date there has been one example of PB being done from the bottom up. This was in the small village of Coedpoeth in North Wales which is in the Wrexham area.




Complexity and bureaucracy


Implementing PB can be complex. It is not just a matter of turning up at a meeting of an assembly but it relies on people understanding budgets and mechanisms such as voting systems and budget matrices. It can take a number of years for PB to become effective and generate participation to achieve results. Its cost-efficiency in the early years is therefore questionable. Because of the complexity of PB it might be advisable for a local authority to start with a simple form of PB like a neighbourhood small grants scheme and gradually expand to a mainstream budget that affects a wider area.


The need for strong commitment


PB requires strong commitment from all parties involved – council officers, elected members and citizens. It requires a strong and confident administration which delivers action on the ground. People have to be convinced that its worth getting involved.


The need for capacity building


Community and voluntary sector groups require training, resources and support if they are to play a role in the PB process. Councillors and local authority officers also need training concerning the principles and the practice of PB processes.


The need for time


To get PB processes up and running requires time especially in the early years. People might find it difficult to commit the time needed to make PB successful.


The danger of raising expectations


There is a danger that the introduction of a PB process can raise the expectations of local people – expectations that cannot be met. This requires very clear information and training in order to ensure that people are aware of the true nature of the programme. Not everyone is a winner in PB, some will find that their wishes do not fit with the community agreed priorities.


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Copyright 2008, Church Action on Povery. Cite/attribute Resource. Ruth. (2008, April 18). Risks and Challenges of PB. Retrieved November 07, 2009, from Participatory Budgeting Unit Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License
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