Church group at heart of government's new 'community kitty' plan

By staff writers
December 5, 2007

A new Government scheme which is being supported by Church Action on Poverty is to allow communities a direct say in how council money is spent.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced yesterday that local communities will get the chance to access their own 'community kitty' to spend on tackling the issues they think are most important in their own neighbourhood.

Church Action on Poverty's Participatory Budgeting Unit is to be at the heart of delivering the 12 new local authority pilots. It will offer advice and technical support to authorities and community organisations wanting to be involved in the schemes.

Participatory Budgeting is a key element of the Government's Community Empowerment plan. It is a mechanism for implementing Government guidance on local area agreements, which have been allocated £5bn to be spent according to local priorities in the recent public spending agreement.

Ms Blears described it as a “radical new way of working” which would “revive local democracy and participation” by giving people a say in local decisions. She wants all local authorities to employ this practice within five years.

First pioneered in Brazil, “participatory budgeting” gives communities the ability to take control of budgets through community-led debates, neighbourhood votes and public meetings. It includes training for local people on how local council budgets work and how priorities are set.

Director of Church Action on Poverty's PB Unit, Mark Waters, said: "Participatory Budgeting is key to revitalising local democracy. We are delighted that local authorities across the country are keen to embrace this development in citizen participation. Enabling people to have a direct say in how public funds are spent can dramatically increase levels of participation, even in areas where so called 'voter apathy' are at their highest. What is most encouraging is to see how people vote for what is best for their community rather than simply for their own individual preferences"

Ms Blears said: “Local people know their area better than anyone and want a direct say over how to tackle the issues that matter most to them from improving playgrounds, to dealing with litter, better standards of housing or taking action against anti-social behaviour.

“Too few people feel able to make a difference in their local area. Giving them more power over decisions on issues that affect them directly is a practical and modern way to get people involved with local democracy.

“There are some in local government who believe giving local people a say is a threat to their legitimacy - nothing could be further from the truth. Listening to the concerns and priorities of the people who use local services can only strengthen our local democracy.”

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