Cabinet has supported a digital approach to this year’s Budget consultation as face-to-face engagement is restricted due to COVID-19 – however, important opportunities for those without internet access will also be provided.
An Officer report to the virtual Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, October 13, outlined a ‘digital by default’ approach to consulting residents over its 2021/22 Budget. The process will take place this autumn as usual, with the dates to be confirmed shortly.
The Council’s annual Budget consultation is a comprehensive and invaluable process, involving a large number of residents and key stakeholders – with more than 4,000 people engaging last year. The views captured help to inform senior management and Cabinet in setting the Budget for the following year.
The 2021/22 consultation will take place in two phases – the first this autumn to collect views on investment priorities, Council Tax and efficiency savings -enabling the feedback to be used while developing a draft Budget strategy. The second phase in the New Year will engage residents about this strategy.
However, circumstances are different this year due to COVID-19, with face-to-face engagement not possible due to the need to maintain social distancing. As a result, this year’s consultation process will build upon the online activity which has proven effective in recent years – including dedicated information pages, surveys, social media content, polls and emails to key stakeholders.
To replace the face-to-face activity, several virtual meetings will be held online using Zoom, offering residents the opportunity to speak with Cabinet Members and senior Officers, as they could in previous years at Town Centre events.
Online video sessions will also take place with targeted groups – including the Older Persons Advisory Group, Rhondda Cynon Taf’s Youth Forums and local schools, as well as important work with the Finance and Performance Scrutiny Committee, the School Budget Forum and the Community Liaison Committee.
There will also be important alternatives to online participation. These include a telephone consultation option via the Council’s Contact Centre, with an individual call back option if required. Paper surveys, information and Easy Read documents will also be made available upon request, with a freepost address for residents’ postal responses to the consultation. Opportunities to engage in the online public sessions will also be provided via landlines.
Councillor Maureen Webber, Deputy Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and Cabinet Member for Council Business, said: “At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Members agreed to support the proposed two-phase process and ‘digital by default’ approach to this year’s Budget consultation – due to the circumstances brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. The need to maintain social distancing rules out face-to-face engagement, which this process has successfully adopted in years gone by.
“Our annual public consultation is an invaluable way of getting local residents involved in the Budget-setting process, giving them the opportunity to have their say – and 4,000 people took part last year. The feedback we receive will again be considered by Cabinet and senior officers, and used as an important factor in decision-making processes for next year’s Budget, covering 2021/22.
“The ‘digital by default’ approach outlined by Officers builds upon the effective online methods we have used in recent years, while using modern technology to further explore opportunities such as virtual meetings. This method of communication has been adopted in most, if not all Council departments since the pandemic began, including hosting formal meetings of the Council. It has been successfully used in the recent consultation into the Dog Fouling PSPO and is currently being used in a similar consultation for the Alcohol PSPO.
“However, it is important to note that the process will not exclude those with limited or no internet access. Officers will ensure there are opportunities for people to take part off-line – via phone, paper and post. While this year’s process will be somewhat different to normal, the Council will still engage with as many people as possible, using a number of different methods.”
Posted on Wednesday 14th October 2020