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Bristol launches interactive budget simulator


City council sets up online tool for the public to provide their judgements on how it should deal with projected £60 million gap in finances

Bristol City Council has taken online consultations into a new realm with the introduction of an interactive budget simulator.

It is aiming to educate local people about its financial choices while taking in feedback on how they feel about budgetary priorities.

The online tool confronts users with a key question: how to close the projected £60 million gap in finances by April 2020.

It provides options for spending in different service areas – such as caring for older and vulnerable people, or for children, or dealing with homelessness – shows users the relevant budget and enables them to move a toggle to reduce or increase the amount. The consequences for each proposed change are displayed, such as cutting existing services and running into legal challenges.

There is a comments box for people to explain why they made their decisions, and to react to the consequences shown on the screen. When finished they can review their decisions.

The council does not intend the results to determine decisions, but Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said the responses will be collated in early August and taken into account before decisions are made on next year’s budget in February.

People's priorities

“We want to be transparent and open,” he said. “As we look ahead to the next three years it’s important for us to understand people’s priorities and for the public to be given a good idea of the decisions that have to be made, where money’s currently spent and what taking it away can really mean.

“Whilst this isn’t a referendum, the contributions will be considered as we plan ahead to 2020. This year we are already planning to save around £44m, so this simulator focuses on the next three years and the growing issue of setting priorities and making cuts on top of cuts.

“I’d encourage everyone to take part in this conversation, share their priorities and get other people on board with the challenge.”

In a video introducing the tool, Rees also urged city partners from policing, healthcare and higher education to take part.

The council said the tool is compatible with smartphones and tablets, and that people who cannot access the internet can use it at Citizen Service Points or libraries.

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