New year resolution
New Year Resolution
It is commonplace after eating one’s own body weight in chocolate over Xmas to adopt a weight-related New Years Resolution. But this is the resolution that should have been adopted by every person working in local public services:
“I will redouble my efforts to explain why public services are important because they offer a greater degree of public accountability. In the difficult debates on local budgets over the next year, I will make sure that I give the public and services users as much say as possible on how they are spent.”
Public is best
It is a dangerous myth that it doesn’t matter who provides local public services. It does. Public services are accountable to the public – very directly in the case of some local government services. Those provided by the private sector are accountable to the shareholders – who are very likely to be major corporations with little or no interest in local citizens.
Those familiar with the US private health care system will be aware of health insurance companies for whom it was more profitable for them if certain patients died, and who acted accordingly.
The Coalition Government is increasingly strangling local government by reducing the amount of its resources and influence. In the clamour over cuts, the bigger picture is being lost – namely, that this is a dangerous attack on local democracy itself as increasingly a distant and unresponsive Government and private firms with their own agenda direct local services, with little or no accountability to people who use the services or live in the local area.
There are few better ways to excite people about democratic involvement than participatory budgeting. Here and abroad, the evidence is clear that it can reconnect people to the idea that they could and should have a say in decisions about priorities and budgets for local services.
There are important new players on the democratic scene: Police & Crime Commissioners, with a low democratic mandate, should involve the public in decisions on community safety budgets; Clinical Commissioning Groups need to engage local people in decisions on health priorities; and elected Mayors and councils across the country will soon start preparing for another budget round with increasingly difficult decisions on services and budgets.
They all need Participatory Budgeting ! And not just PB to decide on small pots of money, but a PB approach that helps them choose between and across services. That is how PB traditionally was used in Latin America and parts of Europe.
Next week, the new national PB Network meets at the University of Westminster. It will bring together PB supporters and public service workers across the country to discuss how to turn the growing support and success of PB into a commitment for all major budget decisions to use its techniques and methods. Contact me for more details on the PB Network or if you want to take forward PB in your area.
Two quick additional thoughts:
1) Fascinating new report here from IPSOS MORI on the difference in generational attitudes: http://bit.ly/ZJ0T2G
2) To those wondering why France and the UK are suddenly involved in Mali, can I just mention one word: uranium !