THE biggest public consultation in Darlington Borough Council’s history is set to take place this summer to determine where the axe will fall on public services and facilities.
As the council looks to cut £14m from its budget over the next four years, on top of £20m of savings already made, the authority will turn to its residents to give their views on what services they want to see saved and what must go.
Council leader Bill Dixon has urged people to put cynicism to one side and take part in the consultation process planned for the coming months, which he described as one of the biggest ever undertaken by a local authority.
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In a report prepared for the council’s cabinet, officers warn that efficiency savings, which the authority has relied on so far, are not inexhaustible and the council must now take stock of what it can afford to provide.
Ahead of the consultation the council will identify the minimum level of service that the council must legally provide, before identifying which other services they can afford to provide.
The consultation itself will take place through four Budget Advisory Panels, each made up of 11 councillors that will meet up to three times between May and July.
Each panel will focus on two or three areas of council provision, such as children’s services and highways, to determine what part of each service can be cut, what must stay and what could be saved.
The council has pledged that each meeting will be open to the public and held in the evening to allow as many people as possible to contribute and debate.
Coun Dixon said: “We don’t think any council has ever carried out consultation as wide-ranging as this.
“In the past cuts have focused on a particular service or facility so we knew who speak to, but these cuts will affect everyone, whatever decisions are made.
“We desperately need to ensure that as many people join in as possible. I know there will be a degree of cynicism but it’s vitally important – this will shape the future of the borough for the next ten to 15 years.
“It’s vital that people play a role now rather than complaining in years to come.”