Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making in which local people decide how to spend a public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss and prioritise public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. PB processes are also designed to involve those left out of traditional methods of public engagement, such as low-income residents, non-citizens, and youth.
In the case of £eith Chooses, a set sum (recently, around £44,000) is made available annually from the City of Edinburgh Council’s Community Grants Fund for projects within the three Leith Community Council Wards: Leith Links Community Council, Leith Central Community Council and Leith Harbour and Newhaven (see map below).
Additionally, in recent years, contributions have been made from the Trams to Newhaven project, and from the Port of Leith Housing Association. Contributions are welcomed from any donor.
Good causes / community groups delivering projects in this area are encouraged to apply for funding from this money (up to £5,000 per group/project).
In order to actually receive a grant, any group applying for funding has to convince people living in this area to vote for their project. The more people that vote, the more democratic the process will be and so we hope that as many Leithers as possible will participate.
So filling in an application form for funding is only the start of the Participatory Budgeting process. Project groups then have to get people behind their proposal and persuade them to vote for it!! Currently, voting usually takes place online in late January, for a period of one or to weeks.
Is PB fair?
One of the tough aspects of PB is that there are inevitably some losers as well as winners. However worthwhile all the projects, some will win more votes from the community than others, and not all projects that apply will get funding. The power lies in the hands (or rather, the votes) of the local community.
Sometimes people complain that the PB system always seems to favour larger groups and groups that are well known and that already have a large existing network of supporters, over new or small groups. This is true to some extent although not always (in past years, there has been a spread of both large and small ‘winners’).
How can we ensure that smaller or unknown groups with less resources and less backing get a fair chance of winning funds? What we HAVE done, in Leith, is
- Over the years we have streamlined the process to try to make everything as fair as possible. Groups may only submit one project application, and voters may only vote once for any particular project.
- To try to promote equality and support diversity we introduced (in 2018-2019) an optional ‘Boost Vote’ which allows voters to choose to cast an extra vote for projects for/from black and ethnic minority groups (which have in the past routinely missed out on funding, just because of their minority status).
- As a very basic form of ‘Deliberation’ phase, we put a short outline of each project up on an online ‘gallery’ in advance of the voting period, so that people can read about the projects before they come to vote, and therefore make as informed a choice as possible.
We do urge all applicants to do everything they can to ‘advertise’ their own project positively before the vote, in order to make sure people HAVE heard of them, and know what the proposed project is about. As with any voting situation, it is not ‘cheating’ to put out publicity, promote your cause and canvas for votes – using various methods of community engagement, speaking to people and via social media. (And of course, applicants should try to present their project as attractively as possible, in their listing on the online voting gallery).