Andrew Burns: Never been easier to engage with budget

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Since the local Labour and SNP council-groups formed the Capital Coalition administration in May 2012, we’ve had a very firm commitment to publicly consult on our annual budget proposals. And each year since we have indeed published full draft figures – the proposals for the 2016-17 budget year are now out in the public domain, and the council will take feedback on them through until December, all prior to actually setting the budget early in the New Year.

It’s all too easy to forget just what a radical change in procedure this has been – a degree of openness and transparency that simply didn’t exist under previous administrations. I recall only too well not seeing the last administration’s budget proposals until after the actual full council budget meeting had actually started. The chance for genuine scrutiny was very limited indeed.

To be fair, that criticism could be levied at administrations prior to the last one as well – but thankfully, since May 2012, the chance for genuine public scrutiny has become the norm.

So, in essence, once again Edinburgh residents are being asked for their views on how the council spends and saves money as part of our public engagement on proposals for the 2016-17 budget.

This year, people will also get the chance to contribute ideas of their own on how city services are provided, using the online Your City, Your Say dialogue page at https://edinburgh.dialogue-app.com

The webpage will form part of a ten-week engagement period, which began on Monday, October 5, allowing the public to feed back on our budget proposals – we want you to tell us your ideas about how we can change the way we deliver services so that we continue to serve the needs of Edinburgh residents, while saving money.

Edinburgh’s population is growing. The council’s challenge is to provide services to more people with an annual budget that remains about the same. To do this, we need to address a budget shortfall of £126 million and change the way we deliver services.

You can submit suggestions and views on topical issues, creating solutions to challenges and ideas for better serving the public and saving money. Users can also rate and comment on others’ posts, helping the council to gather opinion on where it should invest in future.

If successful, the resource will be extended after the budget is set, crowdsourcing public opinions on 
different matters on an ongoing basis. And building on the success of last year, a new online planner, at https://edinburgh.budgetsimulator.com, will also seek views on how the council should deliver services, including the way parking is charged and how the council works with voluntary and third party organisations.

By prioritising some services using the planner, the public can see how this impacts on other services, and how saving in one area can allow additional spending in another. 

By doing things differently and introducing our new online engagement tools, we’re making it easier than ever for people to contribute their views and ideas, and to understand the different challenges there are in setting the budget.

Everything the public says will be taken into account when we draw up the final budget proposals to be put to the council in early 2016, so we are extremely interested in hearing your views. Whether it’s via the planner, ideas forum, survey, phone, letter, e-mail or social media, we welcome all feedback.

The full budget proposals, the budget planner and forum tools can all be accessed at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/budget, and the public engagement will close on Thursday, December 10 and you’ll be able to read the findings before the council’s budget meeting in early 2016.

Councillor Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council.