Headlines: March 20th, 2008

Allowing local people to decide on how money is spent on policing, health and youth services is one of the main strategies the government is pursuing to fulfil a pledge to move power downwards from Whitehall, to the Town Hall and then to the community. Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has set out a new draft strategy for consultation to give people in every local authority area a greater say on how public money is spent by 2012.

It is planned to set up ‘community kitties’ otherwise known as participatory budgets, to give people a direct influence over how cash is spent in tackling crime, anti-social behaviour and other critical issues in the local area. It is believed that the schemes will bring communities together to take a stand against unacceptable behaviour and make sure the police and local authorities tackle their main concerns. Pioneered in Brazil ‘community kitties’ involve local people in spending decisions through public meetings and votes to set local priorities and fund projects and services.

Research shows that community kitties lead to better services because people that use services day in day out know how they need to be improved. The kitties also give people the opportunity to influence the future of the place where they live, generate civic pride and bring communities together with a common purpose.

More than 20 councils across the country have signed up as pilots ranging from a few thousand to several million pounds. The new strategy explains how nearly 400 councils in England can use this approach and meet the ambition for every council to take this up by 2012, giving people greater ownership of their neighbourhoods, and shaping services around their needs.

The strategy will be pursued in parallel with the development of Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital Funds which allow young people to influence local youth and leisure activities, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas. The aim is that by 2018 young people will have a direct say in a quarter of all money spent on things to do and places to go for young people.

The consultation, which asks for evidence to shape the forthcoming Empowerment White Paper, closes on 10 June 2008.