Communities to have their say on funding

Denise Gillies (far left) of the Newtongrange Gala Day committee at the stage in the park which the committee has just secured a power source for thanks to local councillors environmental funds.
Denise Gillies (far left) of the Newtongrange Gala Day committee at the stage in the park which the committee has just secured a power source for thanks to local councillors environmental funds.

Participatory budgeting is to be used to give communities a direct say in how some of the council’s budget is spent in their area.

In recent years each councillor has been allocated £10,000 to spend on ‘environmental projects’ in their wards. However, councillors agreed at the full council meeting last week to adopt a participatory budgeting model to decide how that money should be spent.

Midlothian West councillor Kelly Parry (SNP) said: “I think participatory budgets is an opportunity for communities to engage actively within their communities. To work alongside the council to support local groups and initiatives. I think the current system of environmental funding allows councillors to have pet projects and particular likes and dislikes.

“And this change I know will be warmly welcomed in my own ward and I have every faith in my community to use this change positively.”

However, Labour group leader Derek Milligan said: “I have been working with community groups, schools, boys’ clubs, delivering stuff that the community wants. We are quite happy to be involved and speaking to the communities to see what that they want.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) said: “Many of us use this strategically in our ward.

“We all work together to plug the gaps when there wasn’t anywhere else to get that money from. I’m sitting at the moment with a considerable amount of capital in my budget because the project I’m trying to support hasn’t come to fruition yet.”

Councillor Ian Baxter (Green) said: “One thing about participatory budgeting that it is universal is how popular it is amongst ordinary people when they realised that they have finally have got the tools, to put the resources, our resources, council tax payers resources, into those projects that they feel are important.

“We have a situation at the moment where individuals are deciding how to spend council tax money, so how can that be more democratic than participatory budgeting?”

Councillor Kenny Young (Lab) disagreed with the assumption that participatory budgeting is the more popular option, pointing out that the pilot scheme in Mayfield had caused concern in the community. He also said that a big risk of participatory budgeting is that less money would go to the most deprived areas than it does through the environmental funds.

Following a tied vote on the change, Provost Joe Wallace’s casting vote ensured that participatory budgeting was accepted as the new model.