Headlines: February 22nd, 2010

The Commission for Rural Communities has called on councils to adopt participatory budgeting so that communities can be involved in spending decisions. The call comes after a successful trial in rural areas by the Participatory Budgeting Unit.

The pilot schemes stemmed from a Commission inquiry to explore why rural people often feel unheard and excluded, and what redress was possible. Among the issues pinpointed by the inquiry was that some rural people feel they have less influence on public spending decisions than their urban neighbours and that their priorities are overlooked.

Participatory budgeting is an effective way to allow local people to decide how to allocate part of a public budget. It directly involves them in making decisions on the spending and priorities for a defined public budget. It can be applied flexibly and typically it works with the mainstream local annual revenue budgets or supplementary revenue streams or regeneration budgets.

This form of community involvement offers rural people their own say in local community investments. The trial has shown practical examples of people deciding local priorities and allocating resources across a wide range of services including community safety schemes, health awareness campaigns, and parish footpaths. This approach can bring communities together, help people understand the complexities of public budget-setting and deliver public services which better meet local needs.

The Commissions recommends that all councils should be encouraged to allocate neighbourhood budgets to local councillors. Parish and town councils are urged to involve their local residents more directly in spending decisions. By adopting these approaches through participator principles local people can have a direct say in how some of their tax resources are spent within their neighbourhoods.