Why would a coming together of nearly two hundred local residents to determine which community groups receive council funding be controversial? The 'You Decide Day' last month at Stretford High and other places across Trafford was followed almost immediately by a negative dismissal from different angles.
Historically, the Council grants to voluntary organisations took the form of "earmarked grants", given to a limited number of organisations over a number of years for recurring expenditure.
For the past two years, the council has handed over the decision making to residents through a participative budgeting day.
Is it perfect? No, it’s not !
- It’s easier for some groups than others to mobilise support
- There may be clashes with holidays or other things going on on the day
- There’s not enough time to evaluate each bid more than superficially
- There’s a concern that people vote for their own area.
These are valid criticisms. By it’s nature not everyone will be able to attend or participate and judgement has to be made on a very brief presentation.
But already we’re seeing far more new groups receive funds for the first time. And even If neighbourhood loyalties are playing a part, we’re still seeing a good geographical spread across Old Trafford and Stretford..
The previous system for allocating grants was not perfect either.
There’s improvements to be made to participative budgeting in terms of putting more into the Old Trafford and Stretford Pot compared to Altrincham. We are already receiving more per capita, but Altrincham was undersubscribed in terms of bids, so it should be tweaked further. Publicity can be improved and certainly more information about the bidding organisations can be made available. There did seem to be more than was necessary spent on gloss and refreshments.
But, I really hope we can continue and expand this form of decision making. Lack of transparency and accountability from bureaucrats is a subject that fills my mailbox on a daily basis. So there's scope to take it into many other areas of provision. We should be opening up democracy, not retreating back to cosy relationships behind closed doors.