Greens hail idea to give voters power over budget
SAMBA economics hasn’t found much of a foothold in the world outside Brazil.
But now an exotic idea born in the world’s fifth largest nation is set to grab the imagination of Edinburgh residents.
Voters would be given the chance to decide on how to allocate millions of pounds of the city budget under radical new plans.
The peoples’ budget election pledge would see referendums set up on key projects proposed by the public.
The total amount would be one per cent of the discretionary budget, the amount left after local government statutory requirements have been met.
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Proposed by Edinburgh Greens, and backed by the city Labour group, the plans are at an early stage but would be popular with the public, they say.
Known as participatory budgeting, the practice originated in Porto Alegre in Brazil in the late 1980s with individual neighbourhoods voting on local expenditure. It rapidly expanded to city-wide assemblies.
Similarly, in New York City this week conventions packed with local residents will decide how $4 million is spent in four districts. Proposals range from road repairs to a giant projector for showing films in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Green councillor Maggie Chapman said the recent Leith Decides event – in which 700 people flocked to Ocean Terminal to decide how to spend just £17,000 – showed the level of interest in how the city is run.
She said: “Leith Decides started out with community grant fund for a few thousand pounds, but ultimately we’d like it to be the full budget.”
The Leith Walk representative said there was likely to be political resistance to the change, but said the public had a right to decide.
Small projects, such as upgrades to play parks, would be decided upon only in local communities, while larger ones, such as extra bus routes, would require citywide decisions.
Cllr Chapman said: “We knew there would be resistance, and the argument that ‘people might make the wrong decision’ but I don’t accept that. It’s also a way of political education. Once people realise there is real money, they will want to be involved.”
The Greens’ election pledge comes after Labour also promised a similar major overhaul of the budget process in its manifesto last week.
However, Lib Dem Gordon Mackenzie, a senior councillor on the administration said: “This is nothing more than window dressing. The Greens are saying ‘we don’t want to make difficult decisions’.
“We’re always looking for ideas whether it’s surveys, online, Neighbourhood Partnerships.
“The vast majority of people who are interested can already get involved.”
How would you spend the money?
Danny Macaskill, 26, internet stunt sensation: “I’m going to be biased and say parks, cycling facilities and bike routes. “More and more kids are just sitting in their beds on computers. Saughton Park is absolutely heaving in the evenings but we do need more investment.”
Boogie, 40, Forth FM DJ: “We need a music venue to rival the SECC in Edinburgh. What we need is a gig venue for bands to attract the biggest acts. “We’re a capital city but the mainstraim acts go to Glasgow – we need to bring them here.”
Richard Demarco, 81, arts impresario: “I would want cultural projects relating to education – give young people the chance to go to the ballet, theatre, exhibitions for the first time in their lives.”
A TEST CASE FOR POLICY
The first participatory budgeting process was developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, with the city being used as a test case for the policy ever since.
The process began with a series of neighbourhood issues and rapidly expanded to city-wide assemblies.
Annual spending on pensions and paying off loans is exempt, but better healthcare, the running of the city’s green parks and measures to attract tourists are all on the agenda.
Around $200 million per year in city construction alone is subject to participatory budgeting, with tens of thousands having their say on how the cash is spent.