Argyll and Bute’s 2012/13 draft budget papers will be published later this week.
The proposals have been drawn up following a lengthy period of public consultation, during which the council sought to engage the maximum possible number of individuals and groups.
The aim of the consultation was to alert people to the budget process and to the need for the council to make significant savings, and give residents the opportunity to make suggestions as to what they think the council’s spending priorities should be.
The consultation ran from October 13 to December 6 2011, and residents were encouraged to participate in events and activities across the region, as well as online. Among them were:
Publication of budget information on the council’s website, with a brief survey. The budget consultation web pages recorded more than 1,200 unique hits during the consultation period.
Inclusion of the same survey questions in the Autumn 2011 Citizens’ Panel survey
An online budget simulator, which allowed respondents to devise budget scenarios and leave comments. The simulator provided an interactive way for the public to view some of the consequences of budget decisions and highlighted the difficulties faced by the council in presenting a balanced budget
Use of a ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ email address for submission of comments and questions
A programme of 10 meetings across the region involving budget consultation sessions
Provision of postcards and comment boxes in public areas of 63 council-run facilities
Webchats with the council leader and the senior management team
Emails to 54 community councils
The council commissioned Argyll Voluntary Action (AVA) to carry out a consultation on the budget with ‘hard to reach’ groups.
Information sent to all local press, generating articles in all of the main local papers
Sending out three tweets every day of the six-week consultation period, aimed at the council’s 1,500+ Twitter followers
Council leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, said: “This was one of the most comprehensive consultations we have ever undertaken. Our aim was to engage with the widest possible cross section of the Argyll and Bute community, and we took on board people’s suggestions as to how we might reach the maximum number of residents.
“The consultation set out the overall context for our budget, and showed how funds are currently divided between service areas.
“We also clearly set out the financial challenges we face as a result of the reduction in overall public sector finance, and asked our residents for their views and responses to various questions.”
From the beginning of the consultation exercise, comments received were passed to the Budget Working Group, Heads of Service and the Strategic Management Team on a weekly basis.
Councillor Walsh said: “The responses we received covered a huge range of issues – some high level and strategic, and others focusing on local or, in some cases, personal matters.
“However, a common thread throughout was a widespread recognition among respondents that cuts to council services are inevitable.
“Our job is to ensure that – wherever possible – we safeguard and invest in the areas which people have told us they most want to protect, while at the same time identifying the necessary savings to ensure we can balance our budget.
“I believe the draft proposals published later this week will provide a solid basis on which to achieve that. We have listened to what people have said to us, and will continue to consider how best to take account of their views.
“I would like to thank all those who took the time to feed into in the very challenging task of drawing up the draft 2012/2013 budget. The feedback on the consultation from those who took part was positive, and we will continue to look for ways in which we can further engage our residents and communities on the best way forward for Argyll and Bute Council in the future.”
The budget papers will be published on Thursday (January 26 2012).