Troubleshooting questions and concerns
Here are some of the risks and obstacles which have been mentioned before. Devised for parish councils by Rural Action Yorkshire, they are true many other types of local budgets.
Concerns about legitimacy – what would happen if a small number of people hijacked the process for a narrow interest?
This has not been the experience in practice. The risk must be managed by effective promotion of the project and by securing as much involvement as possible. By specifying themes which it wishes to see projects for and by vetting applications for suitability against the themes and for practicality, the risk is further reduced since the choice will then be between acceptable projects.
Ultimately, the decision is that of the budget holder and if what is proposed is clearly inappropriate they can choose not to act on the outcome of the meeting. However, if after reasonable promotion, only a few take an interest perhaps their readiness to take an interest should be respected. It might encourage others to get involved on a future occasion.
“Our budget processes don’t include extras for exercises like this.”
Councils, fire authorities, housing associations, and schools all need to set budgets. Many award sums to local groups in the form of grants. Both of these processes could be conducted by Participatory Budgeting using money which is already in the system. Parish and Town Councils have the option of creating a bit extra through their precept and often an exercise like this will make it clear that people don’t mind paying a little extra if they can see how it is to be spent.
A Participatory Budgeting exercise may help attract additional funding from the local authority or other public service agency.
“Once it gets going I could see it working but it might be difficult to get going.” There needs to be enthusiasm and commitment, it’s true. But where communities have set out on this type of exercise they have found that it generates its own interest and commitment.
What is the smallest size of local public organisation that works for this model?
There isn’t one. The smallest exercise known of is to deal with allocating £500. Many community groups seek quite small sums of money to help their projects.
Where do the ideas about using the money come from?
From the community. It is likely that there are ideas around that have been looking for an opening, so to speak. An initial development meeting for the community can be used to explore people’s priorities and then projects invited in relation to those. Or the task group might feel it knows what themes are important and would set the criteria accordingly.
It encourages a lack of responsibility because people don’t have the authority.
This has not been the experience in practice. Communities have shown themselves very willing to look at projects in the round and think about what the community needs and not about some narrow interest. It’s their money so they generally want to see it well used.
The Parish Council is seen as being there only for grass cutting and drainage.
Then it is time to raise the Parish Council’s profile and this is an ideal way of showing leadership.
How is it different from a parish plan?
The two go together very well. The parish plan sets out aspirations but does not deal directly with funding priorities. The PB process can be used to address funding priorities and to further develop community involvement in coming forward with solutions to the issues identified in the plan.
We are doing this anyway.
This isn’t usually true and relates to other, often much less formal, consultation exercises. Asking for people’s views or opinions is not the same as trusting us to choose.
It needs a larger community to make it work.
Small communities have and are doing Participatory Budgeting. The most important thing is the commitment.
Unless the issue is controversial people don’t take an interest in local public organisations.
Participatory Budgeting is a good way of changing that. It requires commitment from those who decide to lead the project but communities have shown that they respond to this kind of challenge
There is nothing wrong with how things work now.
There are many local public budget holders that see this as a good idea and will take it forward. Others may not be so convinced. However, it is usually possible to strengthen community engagement in how public money is spent. Many local public organisations would like to see greater involvement.
It’s our role (the Councillor) to make these decisions.
here are circumstances in which it is best that the councillors deals with the issue and other circumstances in which community engagement is a good approach. Both have their place.
The people at the meeting generally will not have the background to make this kind of decision.
This view underestimates the community’s common sense.
The kinds of decisions likely to be called for in a Participatory Budgeting exercise will not be technically complex but rather a matter of expressing preferences between proposals that have been vetted for their practicality.
It might cause division in a small community if different groups support different projects. This could undermine interest in people getting involved with the organisation.
This has not been the experience in practice. Rather the opposite – it has generated interest in council activity and more interest at election time. Proper promotion, clear criteria and an open process will reduce this risk greatly.