This blog, written by Jez Hall for the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University makes some contentious claims that might not be agreed on by all.
In the blog, excerpts of which are published below, it is argued that participatory budgeting can have cost benefits that are usually ignored.
"Advocates for more citizen participation usually discuss Participatory Budgeting, (and similar ideas for direct democracy) as a democratic enhancement – something about fixing democracy, trusting in politics or getting involved. It is as though involvement is the aim.
But a too often undervalued dimension is the cost benefit of participation. We live in expensive bureaucratic systems, where the recurring costs of services make no sense to ordinary people.
If the people involved in commissioning services are the people already managing, running or benefiting, there is an obvious bias to backing their own professional approach. That isn’t corruption. It’s human nature. Yet, however well intentioned and informed they may be, it is a capturing of the system by those already benefiting most from it.
As a leading public health manager for a big city once said to me “prisons exist to pay for prison staff pensions, and hospitals to pay for consultants golf club memberships”. This might be a little unfair. But if you care, and professionals in the public sector do care, without a robust process of challenge there is no strong incentive to reduce one’s own role.
Maybe PB can shine a light on that problem – and save taxpayers a bit of money. Putting one less person in prison for a year could pay for at least 3 youth work posts – and who knows how many hundreds of hours of volunteer time at a community based youth club. Each youth worker, properly supported, could prevent a young person being abused, or going to jail. If they stopped just one conviction or referral per year each, then prevention is still a great investment.
Participation is not just about validating pre-determined choices of so called experts. It is about deliberating between options, suggesting new approaches and making more informed choices. So let’s have a better approach than tick box consultations. Let’s shine a light on some of these costs. Open up how we make these decisions and let the people decide?"
Read the full blog on the CURA website