Tower Hamlets kick-started their ‘You Decide!’ project in January 2009, with the aim of improving perceptions and performance of local services. The project gave residents the power to design and choose services through participating in the budget process. Tower Hamlets ran eight events with local residents to decide how £2.4 million of the central council budget should be spent, and how mainstream council services should be prioritised and delivered. Services discussed ranged from a Zero Tolerance Drug and Crime operation at a cost of £35,000 to a tree planting scheme at a cost of £5,000.
The project was designed to develop capacity for participation within the Tower Hamlets community, so at each event residents were given ample information about the services on offer and had the chance to deliberate and vote on which services should be purchased. Given the diverse demographics in the neighbourhood, the Council reached out to people from all backgrounds to give them the experience of participation, and to learn from it.
By getting involved in the process, residents also engaged with the local area, local services, voluntary organisations, and politics generally. Though interest wavered at the start, citizens bought into the process much more once they fully understood how it worked. The process was developed in its second year to give more time for structured deliberation, and participants took on increasing responsibility for how and where resources should be spent.
The Uist and Barra Public Bus Service Redesign project has used innovative methods to improve service outcomes for rural communities through procuring services in a new way. By using participatory budgeting methodology the community has had the opportunity to be fully involved in the design and procurement of their bus services. Together with the use of an output performance specification in the procurement process and extensive engagement with suppliers this has made the project an innovative piece of work, addressing some of the key issues that face rural communities and their ability to access services.