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Bexley Council chief in last call for budget proposals

PUBLISHED: 10:33 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33 04 September 2014

Bexley Council budget consultation

Bexley Council budget consultation

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Consultation ends soon for using online system

Council chiefs are urging residents to take part in a consultation into how the authority balances budgets next year – as the deadline looms.

Facing further big cuts to its budget, Bexley Council made an appeal to members of the public to engage in the process so they could suggest where available funding should go – and what should be cut. The consultation period ends on September 14.

Using a novel website design, residents can adjust budgets demonstrating how increasing cash in one area inevitably means cuts elsewhere.

Areas affected include housing, leisure, social care, environment and corporate services.

The council faces a shortfall of about £11.5 million as it stands. To put that into context, failure to make the necessary cuts would result in council tax rates having to rise by 14 per cent. Councils cannot increase the tax bill by more than 2pc unless a referendum is held – a move frequently referred to as asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

The council’s deputy leader, Conservative Cllr Gareth Bacon, explains: “No politician wants to hold a referendum on putting up taxes.”

Councillors have promised to review the public input of what it wants to see its council spend money on, before setting about making the new budget.

The total number of people taking part so far is about 300, but the council says many more are needed.

Further reductions in government funding for councils and a growing and changing population mean that Bexley is likely to have to find more than £40m in savings by 2018/19. This is on top of the £61m it has saved since 2006.

Anyone without an internet connection can take part by visiting the council offices.

Once the deadline passes, the council cabinet will meet in October and absorb the findings as it begins the process of finalising budgets for 2015-16 and beyond.

Council leader Cllr Teresa O’Neill said: “We face tough decisions over the coming months and the aim of the website is to encourage people to get to grips with the issues and have their say.

“Several people who’ve used the site say they have found it interesting and we will use the results to help us draw up our plans for next year’s budget.”

Cllr Bacon added: “The You Choose site isn’t Candy Crush, but it’s more colourful and engaging than traditional consultations.

“You use sliders to adjust spending on services and you can see the impact on the council’s budget deficit immediately, as the total at the top of the page goes up and down.

“You can do it in as little as 10 minutes, depending how much detail you get into.”

An indication of how hard setting a budget is, at the height of public response when 224 people started to set their own budget, only 74 managed to succeed. The others simply gave up.

Last time around, the council’s financial planning process forecast a budget gap of £11m in 2014/15.

The budget strategy plan agreed by the council on March 5 this year set out proposals for balancing the budget.

Following extensive consultation, a list of service adjustments was agreed which will save £7.7m in 2014/15 rising to a full-year effect of £11.4m by 2017/18.

Efficiency savings had previously been agreed for 2014/15 and beyond, with the target for each service set at 3pc, but this had to be increased to 3.5pc.

It was also revealed in its capital programme, that on the best projections of available resources and likely spending, the council will need to borrow in the order of £11m over the next three years unless further capital resources are identified.

To use the You Choose budget tool from the council, visit youchoose.esd.org.uk/bexley.

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