Government is a Seventeenth Century machine, with late Twentieth Century middleware operating in a sceptical Twenty-First Century environment. To solve its (our?) public expenditure challenge needs solutions that do more with less, and not less with less. Getting those solutions imagined, designed and implemented is going to need a different way of doing things.
Public policy paradoxes
KPMG concluded in its report, “The Wolf is at the Door”:
“The public sector has one or two years to draw up plans to radically change their (sic) business models to enable their respective services to be prepared to meet the hard times ahead without compromising on quality of services delivered.”
Insanity, as Einstein observed, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In setting budgets, government has to deal with two awesome paradoxes:
1. There is a large public expenditure gap…
– but businesses and citizens retain high expectations of public services.
2. Tough policy and budget decisions are necessary …
– But public trust in government is required to consent to tough choices and that trust is at an all time low.
Participatory budgets could the be answer to these problems. In this kind of budget process, citizens are actively engaged in setting, debating and challenging budget options. The results are a budget that is properly democratic and properly legitimate. It fully reflects citizens’ priorities and is worthy of citizens’ trust and consent.
Last year, the City of Cologne won the European Public Sector Award for its participatory budget. The process was a massive piece of citizen outreach through flyers, internet and call-centres which allowed citizens to view, submit, comment on and prioritise proposals for better spending and saving. There’s a case study of the participatory budget process here:
With a history of corruption scandals, a €4 billion budget and a million citizens, Cologne is not an unfair prototype for what could be achieved in the UK.