EVERY household in Sheffield is to receive a letter from council leader Julie Dore requesting residents’ views on how they think the council’s budget should be cut.
The authority, which had to save £84 million this year, must reduce spending further by at least £50 million in the next financial year from April.
Next month, letters will be sent to all 250,000 households in the city, informing residents of the council’s financial situation and seeking opinions about what services should be protected - and how the axe could fall.
Opposition Liberal Democrats have attacked the cost of the exercise, which could be in excess of £90,000.
They say the consultation comes too late - because much of next year’s budget will already have been planned provisionally behind closed doors.
But Coun Dore said: “We want people to be able to understand the position we are in and ask for feedback.
“We are sending the letter out in December to give people as much time as possible to send in their comments, before we have to come up with final proposals.
“Last year, there was consultation by the Lib Dems when they were in control but it was asking for people’s views for two weeks after the budget had actually been put together, which really was too late.
“We want our exercise to be a genuine consultation.”
The final content of the letter has not yet been decided but it will give households options to reply by phone, email or in writing.
Coun Dore said no decisions have yet been taken about what services should be cut.
She added savings would be made in line with the council’s priorities to help young people get jobs, protect services for vulnerable people, and boost local businesses.
The idea was welcomed by residents’ groups across the city - as long as the council makes sure householders’ views are taken into account before decisions are made.
Mick Daniels, chairman of Brushes Tenants’ and Residents’ Association in Firth Park, said: “It’s a good idea to ask people but only if it’s a genuine consultation and residents will be listened to.”
Terry Andrews, of Base Green Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, also supported the consultation exercise.
He said: “Making the cuts is a very difficult task and Julie Dore is right to ask the public. In my opinion, the council could reduce spending on things like tree planting so there are fewer cuts to services.”
But Avril Fletcher, a former chairwoman of Totley Residents’ Association, was sceptical. She said: “I don’t think people’s views will end up being taken into account. It’s a difficult task to assess what should be cut.”
Opposition Liberal Democrat leader, Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, said Labour is holding consultation too late for the results to be taken into account when drawing up the budget for 2012/13.
He said: “Even by December, Labour will already be close to finalising their budget for next year. If they were real about consultation, the process would have happened in the summer. I also have concerns about the cost of this letter.”