Thursday, February 17, 2011

Participatory budgeting and the fear of crime

I pass this email from a friend on without further comment:

"Last year, my charity was involved in a project with the local council and police around participatory budgeting. The Home Office allocated funding to spend on projects to tackle crime, on the condition that the decisions about how to spend the money were made by local people.

The council, police and voluntary sector worked together to engage residents, despite a very tight timeschedule for engaging people and getting them to decide how to spend the money. One thing which was interesting from this work was that, given the choice, people chose to prioritise help for homeowners to prevent burglary, more activities for young people, more bikes for the police, and outreach work with street drinkers as their top priorities for cutting rather than CCTV or other anti-crime initiatives.

We've just had the latest results from the Residents' Survey since this work was done. The percentage of people who thought that crime was one of the top three problems in the area fell from 29% to 20%, the percentage of people who felt that levels of crime was the reason why their area was not a nice place to live fell from 63% to 39%, the percentage of people who felt safe in their local area in the evening and at night increased from 54% to 71%, and the percentage of people who felt safe in the borough at night increased from 46% to 62%.

Clearly, this can't all be put down to the participatory budgeting work. But these results are encouraging, particularly as in other areas levels of dissastisfaction increased, so that it can't just be put down to generally increasing satisfaction. You might expect that the government would be keen to develop the learning from this and the other pilot areas where this work took place, given their rhetoric about putting people in charge and devolving power to neighbourhoods.

But if you thought that the government would want to support this work, then you would be wrong. One of the first things which they did last summer was to cancel this programme, cut the budget, stop work to share learning from the pilots, and redeploy the civil servants who had been managing the project to work instead on developing policies for the Big Society.

Just think, if they had been prepared to build on what the previous government had done in terms of giving power to people, then by now they might have developed a really effective approach which local areas could use to help reduce the fear of crime. But because they pretended that they were doing something entirely new, scrapped existing projects and started from scratch, they've achieved nothing and created a national joke."


At 3:23 pm , Anonymous Ruth Jackson said...

Hi. This is excellent news! I'm from the participatory budgeting unit and half the time we don't get to find out about these kinds of longer term outcomes. Any chance I could find out which area his project was in? In terms of cancelling budgets and redeploying civil servants, I fear your friend has been misinformed. In terms of the civil servant promoting the original programme - he's retired - of his own free will! It's been passed onto other colleagues though and they are championing it. It was only a pilot programme, it was never intended to continue beyond the year. Also, the Home Office have another PB programme this year, looking at Domestic Violence, so they are still very committed to it - they're just exploring different avenues. I think they feel that once they get it going, the local areas need to embed this themselves and use money locally rather than external 'funny money'. Thanks.

At 3:26 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

Hi Ruth,

Could you e-mail me - donpaskini AT liberalconspiracy DOT org , and I'll send you more info?

At 8:46 pm , Anonymous Liam Murray said...

The only evidence offered up here is of a reduced 'fear of crime' rather that a reduction in crime itself. That's not unimportant but it may well be less valuable than outcomes achieved elsewhere with the redirected funds.

I'm happy to admit the government have done a p*** poor job of explaining the 'Big Society' or building any confidence that they'll achieve better results. But cancelling something like this in an effort to do that doesn't seem particularly reckless to me.

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