Residents in Liverpool are being urged to help decide where the council should prioritise its spending in the face of huge cuts.
A Budget Simulator has been launched on the council’s website – http://liverpool.gov.uk/budget – for residents to consider where efficiencies might be made, spending should fall and income be generated to balance the books for 2014-15.
For the first time, it is also available via a mobile app for use on smartphones and tablet computers.
The latest estimates show the city council has to save a further £156 million over the next three years, on top of the £173 million that has been cut in the past three years – a total of £329m in six years.
Using a series of sliders, people can opt to prioritise a range of different services including children’s and adults services, roads and refuse, housing and community services and environment and regeneration. The simulator then outlines some of the consequences of their actions.
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “We are a much leaner, smaller and efficient council than we were, and have already had to make significant cuts to services and to the number of people we employ.
“We continue to face some stark and difficult choices and it is vital that people understand the gravity of the situation. There is no option other than to deal with the situation head on and make the decisions in the fairest way possible. That is why I want people to get actively involved in telling us what they believe is most important and the services they believe should be protected.
“I am anxious that residents, customers and other interested parties get a chance to tell us what their priorities are.”
“It is clear that we won’t be able to satisfy everyone due to the vast range of ways in which the council touches people’s lives, but it will at least give us a sense of what our citizens think.
“Their selection and comments give us valuable feedback on what people see as the priorities for spending over the next year.
“This is just part of our consultation efforts over the coming months with service users, partners and other stakeholders as we start an enormously important conversation with the city about how to overcome the challenges together.”
The latest financial position shows the city council will have to save £45 million in 2014/15, £63 million in 2015/16 and £48 million in 2016/17.
People can also find out more about the budget at www.liverpool.gov.uk/budget or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Budget Simulator will be available until mid January.
The budget for 2014-15 will be set in March 2014.
Why don’t you cut the number of staff and managers to save money?
The senior management team has been halved, saving £6 million per year. We have also reduced the size of our workforce by 1,600 through a voluntary severance scheme.
What are you doing to collect unpaid council tax?
Liverpool City Council’s Council Tax collection rate is as good as other large cities, at around 96 percent. However, unlike many other councils, we do not write off old arrears, which means that the amount of council tax debt that appears in the accounts is far higher than other councils. But any comparison is meaningless as they treat their debts differently and have written off any chance of recovering the money. Last year, the council brought in £8.5 million in historic council tax arrears and £381,000 of poll tax debt, which was then invested in services. This is money that the council would not otherwise have had.
Why don’t you dip into your reserves to cover the gap?
The city council has reserves of £115m, which will halve over the next three years as we pay bills such as legal claims and other committed future expenditure. Some of the reserves are held on behalf of other organisations, for example schools. Councils are not allowed to use reserves to plug holes in the budget as it is a one-off fix which just causes more problems in the future – once it is spent it is gone altogether.
You’ve recently announced that you’ve bought Everton FC’s training ground and the Cunard Building. How can you afford to do that?
The council is not allowed to borrow money to pay for day to say services, but can do so if it is an investment that generates a return, such as rental or lease income. The revenue stream can then be ploughed back into providing essential services. The council will only invest in schemes when it is confident it will generate a return, and the risk is minimal.