In a 2011 Guardian article, Kevin Curley, chief executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, said despite being enthusiastic about local budgeting, ‘many of the community budgeting exercises so far have been frankly marginal. Giving local councillors and groups small amounts to spend on traffic calming, improving play areas and smartening up community buildings barely touches the big problems local people face’.
Blakey outlines how participants in participatory budgeting processes need to get involved in actually setting priorities for spending – in budgeting, not just in ‘grant-making’ from a fixed pot. ‘In the words of an activist local to the pilot we followed: ‘we shouldn’t just be helping decide how to share the pie, we should be asking why isn’t the pie bigger!’
A What Works Scotland paper sets out how ‘the mainstreaming option (i.e. participatory budgeting used to allocate mainstream service budgets rather than ad hoc community grants) can give participatory budgeting some degree of institutional stability and sustainability, so that new processes can bed in over time and benefit from ongoing learning and improvement. Arguably, this model can be more effective for tackling complex social problems…. Processes based on ad hoc funding for community grants can also accomplish results although perhaps of a less enduring nature if the source of funding is not sustainable’.