National Participatory Budgeting Conference – Monday 15 September, Manchester

Our flagship publication at NALC is our national journal, LCR. For those of you who don’t already subscribe, below is an article featured in the current November edition on the conference:

Ruth Jackson, research and information officer, Participatory Budgeting Unit, picks out the highlights from the Unit’s national conference

A distinct buzz of excitement was in the air as over 240 people attended the first participatory budgeting (PB) national conference in Manchester hosted by the Participatory Budgeting Unit (PBU). The room was packed with people from all walks of life, from government departments, national organisations, councils of all shapes and sizes, including town and parish councils, to community and voluntary groups and individual residents.

PB pilot launches

Communities and Local Government secretary of state, Hazel Blears MP, launched 12 more national PB pilots and the government’s national strategy for PB – giving more people a say in local spending – in her keynote speech, demonstrating how PB is gaining momentum politically.

Ms Blears said: “Residents are happier with their local area when they are given more say and more control over local decisions. Getting involved in the public spending process will give people a better understanding of, and more confidence in the choices their local authorities make.”

The day was packed with presentations from speakers, group discussions and workshops. Newcastle, Salford, Manton (in Nottinghamshire) and Southampton spoke about their experiences of PB. There were speakers talking about using PB with health, police and children and young peoples funding. Justin Griggs, NALC’s head of development, spoke about the association’s commitment to PB and how instrumental town and parish councils are in empowering their communities.

Shared experiences

Most delegates agreed that the best part of the day was sharing experiences of PB and learning from each other. One delegate said: “Speaking to people who have run PB projects gives me the confidence to run my own.” Another said: “I enjoyed the conference very much. I have returned enthused and completely sold. I am briefing senior officers and senior managers so we can consider how the principles of PB can be applied to our partnership work.”

Delegates representing town and parish councils, NALC and the Cheshire Association of Local Councils came to the conference indicating a growing interest in PB with local councils. Local councils are often best placed to involve their communities because they have freedoms and flexibilities and they are able to focus on those issues that matter most to communities. PB is a great way of involving and empowering local people in their communities. The Commission for Rural Communities recognises this and is working with the PBU to develop some rural PB pilots. This is a great opportunity for rural councils who want to undertake PB, to get dedicated hands-on support and guidance throughout the process from the PBU. NALC is also keen to extend piloting to urban local councils.

PB background

Participatory budgeting, in brief, is where ‘local people decide how to allocate part of a public budget’. It originated in the 1980s in Brazil and has now spread to more than 200 cities in Brazil and to countries including Peru, Canada, France, India, Uganda and the UK. The PBU created a video from a number of projects around the country to highlight the successes of PB so far and ambitions for the future of PB. The video along with photographs of the conference and speakers’ presentations can all be seen on the PBU’s website at http://www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk/

More information on LCR, including how to subscribe can be found here.

In the picture to the left, Phil Teece, PBU, feeds back to the conference a summary of discussions from one of the workshops.

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