Participatory Budgeting in North Wales (Your Community, Your Choice)

Participatory Budgeting in North Wales (Your Community, Your Choice)

English

Problems and Purpose

In this case study, the community programme ‘Your Community, Your Choice’ (established in 2013) uses the deliberative method of participatory budgeting (PB) to redistribute monetary funds seized from criminals in the local area. Since the 1980s, participatory budgeting has become an increasingly popular form of democratic innovation, which has been used in a broad range of contexts. Not only have the benefits of participatory budgeting been recognised by governments, scholars alike have noted how it can enhance existing democracy institutions – “Participatory Budgeting becomes a good tool to promote greater accountability and give voice to citizens in public decisions, improving good governance from outside of the administrative machinery” (Baiocchi and Ganuza, 2014, p.42).

 

The key objectives of this programme were to promote crime prevention initiatives and develop educational programmes which aimed to deter young people from committing crimes. Additionally, this case also aims to provide community groups with monetary funds to further develop their county. A key issue which must be considered when using participatory budgeting is the evident problem of deep-rooted social inequalities and the possibility that participatory budgeting will reinforce existing power struggles. Moreover, although participatory budgeting is a deliberative process, that does not necessarily ensure equal participation and freedom of speech. This has been commonly acknowledged by scholars such as Cornwall and Coelho (2006, p.13) who argue that “for people living in poverty, subject to discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society, the experience of entering a participatory space can be extremely intimidating... their participation may be viewed by the powerful as chaotic, disruptive and unproductive”.

History

Participatory budgeting was established in Porto Alegro in the 1980s, when “the country was transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, and was characterised by one of the greatest income gaps in the world” (Dias, 2018, p.32). Since then, participatory budgeting has established itself as a leading democratic innovation which “gives the floor to those who previously had been outsiders in the political system” (ibid, p.33). As a result of this, participatory budgeting has become popular even in rural areas, such as North Wales. However, within the UK participatory budgeting is still a relatively new and unexplored practice, despite yielding significant attention from both scholars and leading political parties.

‘Your Community, Your Choice’ was established by PACT North Wales in 2013 and since then, has invested over £160,000 into the local community. In the wider context, participatory budgeting is not a widespread practice in the UK, let alone in Wales. As a result, the sums available to the community are not large, but they do mirror the same processes which have been successful across Europe in places such as Porto Alegro.

 

Originating Entities and Funding

The majority of funds available to the community are seized from criminals and reallocated to the community under the Proceeds of Crime Act. These funds are then transferred to the programme, which further redistributes the funds to groups within the local community. However, the programme also receives a number of notable donations, grants and sponsorships. Figures from 2016 show that these were mainly from the Welsh Assembly Government (£13,000), Participatory Budget Fund (£40,000) and Gwynedd Crimebeat (£3,852). This information is publically declared each year in the Annual Report and Accounts.

 

Participant Selection

Initially, participants put themselves forward to receive the funds. The application process chiefly consists of qualitative questionnaires which are then assessed by the county panel before reaching the public voting stage.

There is a quota which states that applicants from an individual county are able to apply for a maximum fund of £2500. In addition to this, applicants for pan-North Wales (working in three or more counties) are able to apply for a maximum grant of £5000. The counties included in this scheme are Anglesey, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham.

An application pack is available online for the community to access and complete. This can be accessed via this link: https://www.north-wales.police.uk/media/652743/your-community-your-choice2017-application-pack-e.pdf

 

Methods and Tools Used

The most fundamental step in the method is the application process. This entails applicants filling out qualitative questionnaires which are used to inform the county panel about the groups they are representing. Key details gained from the questionnaire are: related to the services that the group requires funding for, how their application supports the police and crime plan, relative benefits to the local community and interactions with the local police. The questionnaire also asks applicants to outline how they will continue to monitor and evaluate their project if they were successful in receiving the funds available. Following this, there are a series of deliberative processes which result in a final decision being made: County Panel meetings, notification to applicants of panel decision, public internet voting period and finally, the announcement of the result.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The key deliberative processes used in this case are the county panel meetings and the internet voting period. The county panels are a deliberative process in the sense that they allow a broad range of individuals, drawn from different sectors, to collaborate and reach a consensus. Additionally, the internet voting period directly engages with the public and allows the community to have a direct impact on the decision making process. However, it can be argued that this is not inclusive in the sense that there are differential user rates and not everybody is able to access the internet; thus arguably reinforcing existing inequalities which can further hinder democracy. This is inkeeping with the issue of societal inequalities, which has been explored by theorists such as Ganuza and Frances (2011, p.287) who note that "PB is aimed at the public as a whole,but that does not necessarily mean that everybody participates". Thus implying that in reality, participatory budgeting is not necessarily easy for everybody to participate in, despite the fact that participatory budgeting is open to all. Yet, the Annual Report from 2017 noted that over 10,000 members of the public took part in the online voting process. Thus, highlighting the evident impact and widespread awareness the programme has managed to sustain throughout the local community.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

In relation to this case, it would appear that participatory budgeting is an effective democratic innovation. Moreover, this case highlights how democratic innovations can be beneficial in a range of scenarios. Furthermore, when comparing participatory budgeting in Porto Alegro and North Wales, it becomes clear that this is a flexible innovation which can adapt to the requirements of the environment.

As a result of this programme, fifteen community groups recently received funding of a total sum of £42,000 (2017). Not only did this mean that PACT succeeded in reallocating the funds, but media coverage throughout the region meant that participatory budgeting itself was promoted throughout North Wales and consequently, the public became more aware of democratic processes such as this. The programme was reported in a series of regional news papers, most notably, in the Cambrian News.

 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

In consideration of the aims of the project, it appears that this method was successful in attaining the desired outcomes. As a result of this, it could be disputed that this demonstrates how participatory budgeting can be successful even in rural areas which are perhaps often play a limited role in democratic innovations and institutions. Davidson and Elstub (2014, p. 378) support this in stating that “participatory and deliberative mechanisms like mini-publics and participatory budgeting operate most effectively at a local level”. I believe that this case also demonstrates perhaps unconventional features of participation in democratic processes. For example, it could be argued that offering incentives (like the funds available in this case), can lead to increased levels of participation. This case study also demonstrates that deliberative processes, such as participatory budgeting, are useful not just as a political tool but as a social one too; which can be seen in light of the fact that this programme was primarily initiated to reduce crime rates. Moreover, this highlights how democratic innovations are not only crucial within politics but also in a wider societal context.

 

In a wider context, this case can also be seen as significant due to its impact in the political sphere. A plethora of theorists have argued that the best way to improve a democracy is to practice it. Moreover, the deliberative methods used in this case could be used on a wider scale to develop public understanding and skills in deliberative processes used in political contexts. Furthermore, scholars such as Pateman (1970, p.42-43) have noted the importance of participation in order to overcome academic concerns over political incompetence – “participation develops and fosters the very qualities necessary for it; the more individuals participate the better able they become to do so”. This has been reaffirmed by other scholars such as Sintomer et al. (2008, p.174), who state that “participatory budgeting can have positive impacts on the political culture and competences of participants”. Moreover, a plethora of scholars, such as Cornwall and Coelho (2006, p.8), reaffirm the notion that “participatory sphere institutions are also spaces for creating citizenship, where through learning to participate citizens cut their political teeth and acquire skills that can be transferred to other spheres”.

 

A further point to explore in future case studies is to what extent can participatory budgeting be successful in other areas. Moreover, although participatory budgeting is successful in many areas, some scholars are concerned that the extent of this is limited. Davidson and Elstub (2014, p.368) have supported this by arguing that “the UK has a distinct political culture and political system, which generates both opportunities and barriers to the institutionalisation of deliberative and participatory processes”. As a result of this, democratic innovations, such as participatory budgeting, may have to be adopted in order to thrive. Moreover, in order to sustain a healthy democracy, we may have to consider maximising the utility of pre-existing innovations and combining them to create a more deliberative and democratic environment. In summary, "participatory budgeting can be a powerful process for achieving more democracy, social justice and transparent administration, but it is surely not the only one" (Sintomer et al, 2008, p.176).

 

Secondary Sources

Baiocchi and Ganuza, (2014), Participatory Budgeting as if Emancipation Mattered

 

Cornwall and Coelho, (2006), Spaces for Change? The Politics of Participation in New Democratic Arenas

 

Davidson and Elstub, (2014), Deliberative and Participatory Democracy in the UK

 

Dias, (2018), Hope for Democracy - Transnational Models of Citizen Participation: The Case of Participatory Budgeting

 

Ganuza and Frances, (2011), The deliberative turn in participation: the problem of inclusion and deliberative opportunities in participatory budgeting

 

Jones, (2018), £2,500 grant to improve community CCTV project (article for Cambrian News) accessed via:

http://www.cambrian-news.co.uk/article.cfm?id=118962&headline=£2,500%20...

 

North Wales Police and Community Trust – Annual Reports and Accounts (2017) (http://www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk/Document-Library/Working-in-Partnership/PACT-Annual-Report-2017.pdf)

 

Pateman (1970), Participation and Democratic Theory

 

Sintomer, Herzberg and Rocke, (2008), Participatory Budgeting in Europe: Potentials and Challenges 

 

The Community Partnership Fund for North Wales 2017 Application Pack

 https://www.north-wales.police.uk/media/652743/your-community-your-choice2017-application-pack-e.pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

Case Data

Overview

Location

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History

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013
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Ongoing: 
Yes
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Participants

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10 000
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Process

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Online
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Resources

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