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Leefbaarheidsbudget Participatory Budgeting (Utrecht, Netherlands)
Problems and Purpose
‘Leefbaarheidsbudget’ is the name of a participatory process, launched by the municipality of Utrecht in 1987. Literally translated, it would mean ‘budget of livability’, being ‘livability’ defined by the municipality of Utrecht, as ‘the quality of the residential and living environment’. By ‘residential and living environment’ the municipality understands the following:
- Public spaces (for example: parks; playgrounds; residential streets and shopping districts, squares, urban furniture).
- Traffic (for example: facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists).
- Well-being (for example: encouraging of the contacts in the neighborhoods, culture, sports and youth).
- Communication and participation (for example: citizen and entrepreneurs’ involvement in policy development in the district, neighborhood or street).
- Safety and security (for example: social security; prevention; cope with nuisance).
The purpose of the process is to encourage citizens and entrepreneurs involvement in the decision-making process of the city, and thereby improving the city’s quality of life. Therefore, Utrecht is divided into ten districts, with each district having a district office or a neighborhood service center. The staff at these offices and centers has the function of a ‘meeting point’. The district office can be seen as a point of mutual interest of the municipality in the district, by making the link between the council and the city’s citizens, entrepreneurs and organizations. Not only is it the place where people can express their questions about plans and projects in the district, they can also make announcements about maintenance in the neighborhood, and they can present proposals to improve the livability in the district, or make appointments with the alderman, the council or other groups in the districts. Hence, the district offices fulfill an important function in the participative process of the municipality: it is their job to translate the needs of the citizens in the districts to the municipal policy and the activities in the city.
The objectives of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’, can be defined as the following. First of all, it foresees in the municipality’s desire to respond quickly and flexibly to signals and initiatives from the neighborhood, in order to improve the quality of life in a district, street or neighborhood, where local support is necessary or desirable in the opinion of the municipal authorities. In the second place, the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ anticipates at the municipality’s willingness to encourage the citizen and entrepreneurs’ involvement in the improvement of the livability of their own neighborhood.
As mentioned above, the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ was introduced in the city of Utrecht in 1987. However, it was only by the year 2006 that the process significantly made progress. The municipality decided in 2006 to increase the height of the budget by 2007, by a triplication from the annual budget of EUR 2.3 million, up to an amount of EUR 10 million each year, which implicates EUR 1 million for each district in the city. By the year 2010 the budget has been reduced to a total of EUR 7 million, which, with EUR 700.000 for each district, still can be seen as a significant budget.
The participation in the process is open to anyone who lives and/or works in the municipality of Utrecht. Each citizen and entrepreneur of the municipality of Utrecht can submit his/her initiative, by letter, to the district manager, by at least mentioning the following elements:
- The personal data of the applicant(s), including name and initials, address, phone, and if possible email address.
- The objective of the initiative. The purposes should indicate how the initiative will contribute to an improvement of the quality of life in the neighborhood.
- A clear description that mentions who is taking the lead in the initiative, explaining the extent of the support in the neighborhood, listing the persons and/or organization(s) with whom will be worked together to achieve the postulated objectives, and indicating to what extent participation of the applicants and their focus group, can be expected in the implementation of the initiative.
- A description of the plan, the project or the activity, clearly indicating its location and if possible a planning schedule.
- A clear definition of the requested support of the municipality.
- If the support consists of financial resources, wholly or partially, an estimate of costs should be made, including listed required financial contribution.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The above formulated are the principle elements in applying for the allotment of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’. In order to assess the initiative, the district manager can require more information of the applicant. The initiative should be signed by its applicants. The municipality further requires the support of at least 25 enfranchised citizens of the district, which should be demonstrated by the personal data and signature of each, if it the estimated amount for the initiative will exceed the first limit of EUR 20.000,-.
Support of citizen initiatives by the municipality is in principle fixed upon an amount of EUR 50.000,-. Nevertheless, the district manager might also decide to consider initiatives whose estimated support requires more than the mentioned EUR 50.000,-, as has been the case in several implemented initiatives in the city.
The provision of financial support to the initiative is based on a list of criteria, as mentioned in Article 4 of the policy regulation of the municipality. The principle criteria being described as the following:
- If the estimated municipal support requires an amount of EUR 20.000,00 or less, the district manager will have to make an assessment within four weeks, starting from the first day of the submission of the initiative. The term of four weeks can be prolonged only once, with another four weeks.
- If the estimated municipal support requires an amount exceeding the first limit of EUR 20.000,00, but it stays within the margin between the first limit of EUR 20.000,00 and the second limit of EUR 50.000,00, the district manager will propound the initiative by the alderman of the district. The alderman will have to make a final decision within eight weeks, with the possibility to prolong this term with another eight weeks at maximum.
- Only the Board of Mayor and Aldermen can, on proposal of the district manager, make a decision for supporting initiatives that require more than EUR 50.000,00.
Hereby should be noted that if not all components of an initiative assist to be eligible, an initiative might be supported partially as well.
As mentioned above, the district office will announce its decision about the submitted initiative within respectively four or eight weeks. The realization of an initiative however, can be quiet time-consuming. Intensive deliberation with all involved actors may be needed to get sufficient support for the allotment of the budget. The implementation can also suffer delays caused by external influences, as is the case with initiatives or activities that are bound to specific periods of the year.
Beside municipal assistance based on financial support, the municipality can also decide to support in kind. Examples of the latter include for example the construction of traffic facilities or the provision of cleaning materials. In the case of the allotment of financial support, the applicant is obliged to justify by letter the spending of budget, as well as any personal contributions in the project, towards the district office.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ of the municipality of Utrecht, has two central objectives, namely ‘improving the livability’, and ‘improving citizen participation’ in the municipal policy and decision-making process of the city. These objectives are the principal pillars in the framework of the spending of the budget. According to these two principal objectives, the municipality can verify whether the desired effects have occurred. Is been achieved what was intended: has the quality of life really been improved and has citizen participation increased?
An analysis of the Dutch Audit Office on the effectiveness of Utrecht’s ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’, noted that the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ has had a period of significant growth in its recent years. The awareness among the city’s people has increased, as has the number of initiatives and implemented projects. At the same time, there are several risks to be identified when it comes to the effectiveness of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’. As we can see in the increasing number of implemented plans, citizens do have participated in the drawing up and the implementation of new ‘livability plans’ for the districts. However, to what extend have citizen initiatives really contributed to an improvement in the formulated objectives? In other words, did the livability and the participation in the city really improve? It seems a difficult question to answer, especially when it comes to the first objective, about the improvement of the city’s livability. Since the municipality of Utrecht does not use a very clear description of the concept ‘livability’, measurement of influences and outcomes of the process has resulted very difficult.
Analysis and Criticism
The Audit Office states that, even though the municipality of Utrecht has placed EUR 40 million to disposal for the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ in the years 2006-2010, the effectiveness in the fulfillment of the objectives of the budget stays unanswered. In order to improve future measurement of results, the Audit Office makes several recommendations, which can be formulated as the following:
First of all, the municipality should clarify the objectives of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’, by making them more concrete and measurable. The municipality should also make use of a legal basis for the financial transactions of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’, by clarifying these. The criteria of allotment and rejection of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ needs to be sharpened as well. Concluding, the Audit Office mentions that the municipality should provide a uniform, central registration of the citizen initiatives and they will have to improve the periodic analysis of the performance and impact of the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’. Only by this means, the ‘leefbaarheidsbudget’ will be measurable, and, more important, viable, in the municipal policy and decision-making process in the future of the city.