If you were in charge of the council budget, how would you balance the books and keep everyone happy?
That’s the question Dundee City Council is putting to locals with a new online questionnaire, Conversation with the City, which asks taxpayers to prioritise public services including housing, street cleaning and education.
Participants can even choose how much more council tax they would be willing to pay, from zero to more than 3%.
The authority insists that far from being a box-ticking exercise, the survey will be used to help shape the council’s financial priorities for the year ahead.
Finance spokesman Willie Sawers said: “We’re asking about the services that people value the most.
“People have to recognise that the more money they pay into the council the better level of service we can provide.
“The council doesn’t set charges for the sake of it – and often the charges we levy for services don’t actually cover the cost of the service itself.
“The money that comes in through charges is used to provide services, so the survey is designed to reflect the difficult decisions the council has to make in the current harsh financial climate.”
In an ideal world, telling the council you want to pay as little as possible for everything would result in a cheaper tax bill.
However, while the survey will be used to inform the budget, the council isn’t quite handing all the power to the people.
Mr Sawers would not be drawn on the extent to which the residents’ feedback will be implemented.
“How influential the survey is will depend on the response rate – we would have to balance out the income we’re spending on services with what people say,” he said.
Nearly half of council tax bills goes towards children and family services such as education.
About a fifth goes into providing health and social care services and just under 10% goes into neighbourhood services such as parks and housing. More goes into council administration, road repairs and capital projects such as building schools.
The distribution of those funds is not fixed, meaning Dundonians could potentially have a real say in where their money goes.
Asked if the council was shying away from making its own difficult decisions, Mr Sawers said: “We want to know what people’s priorities are but we’re not asking them to decide everything.
“We’re not asking people to make every last decision for us – it’s not like we’re sticking 20 pages of questions on this survey and asking for changes on everything we do.
“And many of the people who are most reliant on our services could be less representative then others in responding to the survey. We are aware of that.”
The consultation has been partly inspired by the Dundee Decides survey, where residents voted on what projects they wanted to see funded by the council’s £1 million community fund.
Mr Sawers said: “If you look at the turnout at council elections, it is a lot lower than UK or Scottish elections. That indicates that there’s a disconnect between people and councils.
“The survey is another way for us to engage with the public and spell out our range of services, by discussing them outwith our own organisation.
“Going forward in future years, we’ll be looking at the types of questions we ask too.”