Customer story: Hull City Council, UK

Budget Simulator
'screenshot of 'Hull City Council, UK
'screenshot of 'Hull City Council, UK

Consulting on cuts

Like many public sector bodies, Hull City Council found themselves facing challenging spending decisions. Given the difficult choices at hand, the Council wanted to ensure its citizens were engaged in the budgeting process.

As a Council statement explained, 'the central government grant for 2015/16 has been reduced by £23m, and means the money Hull City Council receives from government has reduced by £41m over two years and a total of £104m since 2010. This equates to a loss of £278 per head since 2010.'

This meant that there were no easy financial choices for Hull – cuts had to be made, it was just a matter of where and how. Given this situation, the Council had two aims for its budget consultation:

  1. To build on previous research and consultation undertaken with residents, to understand which services they most valued.
  2. To give residents the opportunity to understand the challenge of balancing a budget in the face of such deep cuts year on year.

Conscious of the complexity of the issues, the Council wanted to ensure the information was presented in an engaging way that everyone could understand. They wanted to find an approach that gave enough detail that people's preferences were informed, yet without being so involved that potential participants would switch off.

Hull City Council used Budget Simulator

Budget Simulator lets citizens try their hand at the challenge of balancing a budget, adjusting real data on spending and consequences to reflect their preferences.

Hull City Council decided to use Budget Simulator in their public consultation. Not only did this ensure they had an effective online response method, it also provided an engaging and easy-to-understand way for people to get involved. As one respondent commented, 'I appreciate the opportunity for consultation and this tool is intuitive and easy to use'.

And, perhaps most significantly of all, the simulation approach really helps participants to appreciate the difficulty of the decisions facing the Council.

Telling responses

After a wide-reaching publicity campaign, including promotion to their resident panel and via public access PCs in libraries, the Council saw a host of positive outcomes, including:

  1. good - and representative - levels of participation
  2. interesting findings from people's responses
  3. indications of a new-found public appreciation for the challenges facing the Council

In the campaign's duration, Hull saw some 4,000 visitors to their Budget Simulator, with about 10% of those going on to complete the exercise and submit their budget – across a demographically representative sample, to boot.

A number of key themes emerged in people's responses, including the suggestion to increase Council Tax charges. Other somewhat surprising recurring proposals included:

  • residents taking more responsibility for themselves and for their city, particularly around things like littering and waste recycling
  • the acceptance of "must-have services" versus "nice-to-have services" – some proposed cuts, such as to library or leisure services, have often met with quite vocal opposition. However, using the Simulator showed residents some of the stark choices involved. This increased appreciation allowed residents to understand that, really, there was often no choice

There were also some 'rather shocked' comments from citizens who had not appreciated the extent of cuts, or the extent of Council services and how they would be affected.

The responses received via Budget Simulator went on to further inform the Council's thinking and decisions. More than that, though, the process also increased the amount of empathy between the Council and citizens. One resident's telling comment expressed the view of many: "I can't do this. I don't know where you might make economies from the information given. My heart aches for the decisions the government is forcing you to make."

Guide: how to consult citizens successfully using Budget Simulator.

The use of Budget Simulator as a part of our budget setting engagement work has been extremely useful. It has helped us to engage and involve our residents in a very complex and difficult process. The comments that we got back from residents show that those who participated got a real insight into the decision-making process that touches so many people's lives.

Matt Jukes, Chief Executive, Hull City Council

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