What can Cameron learn from Cumbria on deciding where the cuts will take place?

The day's news has been full of how ordinary citizens should have a say in how public cuts should be made over the coming months which reminded me of the project we did with Carnegie UK Trust on participatory budgeting and service delivery in rural areas. Commentators have broadly lined up in 2 camps:

  • don't trust ordinary people with the decisions as they will be biased towards their own circumstances and
  • if you get ordinary people involved you will get some good ideas and everyone will feel that the pain has been shared.

At Cybermoor we have carried out some exercises in on-line budgeting with our community in Alston and the local council to identify where the highways budget should be spent. You can download a report of the consultation at the Carnegie UK website which sets out what worked and did not work. I was always struck by how we had several people join in a lively debate on-line, but then the same people were quiet in public meetings when larger characters dominated. There is a role for on-line participatory budgeting to give people a voice, providing they take on board the facts first.

There is a strong case for pushing decisions closer to citizens but the process needs "scaffolding" to hold it all together and facilitate it. Getting buy in from people in local authorities who may be losing their jobs as a result of the process can be difficult, however, evidence shows that they welcome being involved in consultations to have a say. There is a role for social enterprises to act as the honest broker in this process - not in the public sector or private sector, but batting on behalf of the communities they are closest to.

The day's other interesting news related to rural broadband and how the government are looking at pilot high speed broadband projects in rural areas. This is something we will be pursuing with colleagues at the Independent Networks Co-operative www.inca.coop which focuses on supporting independent fibre optic broadband projects.

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Comment by Mike on June 14, 2010 at 9:52
Hi Daniel, its an interesting idea but I think it has three major flaws - that is 1) participatory budgeting should come from, not be imposed on ordinary communities with a pre-ordained outcome 2) there is no consensus on why this is happening, other than a vague idea that 'were all in this together' (a mantra repeated by multi-millionaire George Osbourne) 3) there is no infrastructure about how ideas put forward would be judged.

To your outline of how people have responsed to the idea of a public consultaton for cuts I'd add a third:

* Don't trust ordinary people with the decisions as they will be biased towards their own circumstances
* If you get ordinary people involved you will get good ideas and everyone will feel that pain has been shared
* People are distrustful of the political system and know that if they put forward ideas that go against certain interests they will be ignored

I'd add the response t
Comment by David Wilcox on June 14, 2010 at 9:28
Thanks Daniel for this reminder of the study - now very relevant as you say. I'm doing a lot of blogging about Big Society, and gathering resources on a wiki. I think it would be really useful if it were possible to repost this blog item - maybe including some of the what worked, what didn't points - outside a login, so it is linkable. Big Society discussions need some real local inputs, and more about local issues.
And congratulations on keep Cybermoor alive and developing!

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