Residents to get say in spending decisions
Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Regeneration & Renewal
Local areas across England are to be given a ‘community kitty’ so that residents can control how millions of pounds are spent on regenerating their neighbourhoods, according to the new communities secretary.
In her first major speech since taking up the post last month, Hazel Blears told delegates at the Local Government Association’s annual conference that she wants to ensure that within five years every neighbourhood has a pot of money that the community could decide how to spend.
The method, called participatory budgeting, has been used on a small scale by some councils. But Blears said there is ‘considerable scope to extend it to major parts’ of council services – such as parks, leisure, transport, youth services and key infrastructure projects – by providing more funding.
Under the plans, councils would decide whether to hand over a slice of their budget – which could reach around £20 million – for allocation by local people. Residents and community groups would decide which local issues – such as schemes to tackle anti-social behaviour and drug dealing or the need for new community facilities – should be awarded funding.
Blears said pilots will run for a year in ten areas: Salford, Lewisham, Bradford, Newcastle (see below), St Helens and Birmingham council areas, along with Sunderland’s New Deal for Communities area (see below), Southampton Primary Care Trust area, Mersey Waterfront regeneration partnership area and Manton neighbourhood management area in Nottinghamshire.
The Department for Communities and Local Government will then decide which to use as models for a national roll-out.
The Government said participatory budgeting gives local people the ability to ‘take control of budgets through community-led debates, neighbourhood votes and public meetings’. The model also focuses on training local people on how local council budgets work and how priorities are set.
Blears said: ‘We’ve been debating localism for many years now. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of talking about it. I want us to get on with it. I want to set out my views on how we can put flesh on the bones of the Local Government White Paper.’
Toby Blume, chief executive of third sector umbrella group Urban Forum, said he welcomed the proposals, but warned that councillors may see it as a threat. ‘Participative democracy should not usurp representative democracy, but enhance it,’ he said. ‘Councillors should not fear this change, but embrace it.’
However, East Lindsey District Council deputy leader Jeremy Webb said: ‘I am quite cynical about it, to be frank. (Participatory budgeting) has worked in some areas, but replicating that will be a challenge.’