HEREFORDSHIRE residents will all be able to balance their own version of the council’s £160m budget, thanks to a new piece of online software launched on Tuesday.
Anyone who has taken issue over overgrown grass, potholes and parking can use the simulation programme to toggle funding for different areas.
The kicker is that the numbers must balance at the end of the session, meaning that money to pay for those services must be taken from other areas like bus services or libraries.
“It is no easy feat,” said council leader Tony Johnson.
“All councils across the country need to make unprecedented savings in light of significant government funding reductions.
“We are inviting the public to do just that – balance the councils’ budget.”
It is a budget that was laid out in principle last year as part of a three-year plan to address spending and income graphs that are going in opposite directions.
Due to Herefordshire’s growing, and aging, population Herefordshire Council is projected to spend almost £20m more annually by 2016/17 than it is has this year.
However over the same period, money from central government will fall by the same amount.
This online programme is part of a 12-week consultation ahead of next year’s budget and will give residents a chance to offer their own suggestions on how best to fill that gap, including those options that are not part of the simulation.
In the software, like in real life, there are constraints as to what can be added or reduced.
Some areas have been safeguarded against significant cuts, namely adult social care and children and young people.
Those account for more than 30 per cent of the annual budget but, hit heavily by the £15m in cuts last year, those departments will be protected from serious reductions in funding.
This is partly due to a legal and moral requirement by the council to care for its most vulnerable.
Any attempt to do so in the software will trigger a ‘negative consequence’, which lets the user know the significant implications of further cuts to that service.
There is also limited flexibility in regards to major capital projects like the ring road and the incinerator deal.
While investment in those projects is largely set, it also draws from different pots and therefore doesn’t easily fit into the website’s mock ledger.
Similarly money raised from the sale of council assets – like the Brockington offices on Hafod Road – is not included.
The simulator will help gauge public opinion in addition to the more traditional methods – stalls in market towns and meetings with community organisations – over the consultation period, which is twice as long as it was last year.
It has already been in use across the country, including in neighbouring local authority Shropshire.
To participate yourself, visit www.herefordshire.gov.uk/budgetconsultation2015.