Every so often I find out that, despite my long years in politics, I still have the capacity to be surprised.
This time last year we rolled out the first edition of our online budget consultation. The reason we did it was simple; we wanted to show the people of Tameside the true extent of the financial challenge we faced, free from the misrepresentations and the distortions that often occur when local government and money are mentioned in the same sentence.
We trusted that the people of Tameside would be willing to take part, and you absolutely delivered. By the end of the consultation period we had received over 1,000 responses through the online budget simulator alone, and nearly 3,000 responses if you include others ways of getting in touch like e-mail, letters and social media.
To put that into perspective, out of the 63 local authorities that used the budget simulator only 3 had a higher response rate than Tameside.
But the truly important thing is what you told us.
Firstly, 73% supported rolling out the bin swap as a way to protect vital services and the environment by reducing the amount of waste we send to landfill.
Secondly, when faced with the choice, 78% of you supported an average council tax increase of 4.2%. That’s over twice the amount we’re legally allowed to raise council tax by without having a costly referendum.
Honestly, if somebody had told me that would be the outcome at the start I don’t think I would have believed them.
Because we had that information, we made the decision to increase council tax by 1.9% last year. As everybody was quick to remind us, we were the only council in Greater Manchester to do so. But we knew that we had the people of Tameside behind us when we made that choice.
It also showed us something else. People absolutely have opinions about the challenges we face, and as elected officials we need to give them the chance to make those opinions heard.
That’s why we’re launching our second online budget consultation. From now until 22nd December anybody in Tameside can give their views on how to manage the cuts imposed on us by the government.
To help as many people as possible reply we’ll be putting on over 150 budget simulator events and drop-in sessions throughout Tameside in libraries, Active Tameside centres, community groups, children’s centres and more.
If you’re unsure about how to complete the budget simulator then council staff will be happy to explain to you how it works and help you through the process of completing it at any of these events and drop-in sessions. You can find where and when they’re being held in your area by downloading the schedule here.
Alternatively, if you’re happy with completing the budget simulator by yourself, then you can do so here.
If you’ve completed the budget simulator, then I’d ask you also to spread the word about it to your family, your parents, your friends and your neighbours. If they also live in Tameside then get them all to complete it as well. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion, and the more replies and information we get the better we will be able to use them to inform our budget decisions for next year.
Democracy doesn’t get more direct than this.