Devolution of power to localities in Britain

Hazel Blears, Minister for the Department of Communities and Local Government in the U.K. Gordon Brown government,  has proposed re-structuring local councils so that citizens in 10 neighborhoods will have greater say over the use of cash.

The pilot programs will give residents the ability to decide on budgets from $400,000-$46,000,00.  Voters can choose on priorities ranging from “recruiting more police to providing play areas, parks and green spaces, or improving road safety.” They can prioritize “new play areas and leisure facilities, curbing anti-social behaviour or traffic calming measures.”

Blears hopes that every neighbourhood will dictate the use of a “community kitty” of up to $40 million within the next five years.

The idea comes from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, which has pioneered “participative democracy“.  Some studies that show how this can foster greater participation and civic infrastructure in Brazil can be found in Archon Fung’s Deepening Democracy and here.

In general, increasing devolution does increase political participation, but more localized communities are also typically more racially and ethnically segregated than the surrounding communities, so there have to be cross-cutting networks and political projects that require groups to meet, forge compromises and alliances and friendships across these more segregated communities. 

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