WITH service cutbacks and closures on the horizon as Powys County Council look to plug a £16 million gap in funding, councillors have agreed to put some of the hard decisions in the hands of the public.

Members of the council’s Board agreed on Tuesday to start an extensive consultation process to guage the views of the public on where savings can be made. The consultation, which will be carried out by London-based Research for Today at a cost of £30,000-£32,000, will include workshops, an online consultation, and face-to-face interviews with ‘hard to reach’ residents.

Announcing the plans, Cllr Stephen Hayes, portfolio holder for Corporate Governance and Corporate Property, said: “This will be our first venture in to participatory budgeting which many authorities have already done.

"It’s not just about finding out what the public think we should do with the council tax but the level of service they want and the level at which we should stop spending on that particular service and start spending on other services.”

He did add though that the final decision would still be taken by councillors in conjunction with the council’s corporate plan and Welsh Assembly Government guidelines.

“It is not a question of the public saying spend money that way and we do it, but it will give us ideas to work from,” he added.

While all the members of the Board present at the meeting declared themselves in favour of the plans, there were concerns about the cost of the consultation.

Cllr Russell George said: “I know members within my ward will say ‘Why are you spending £30,000 on this? Isn’t this your job, we elected you to represent us and listen to our views’.”

Cllr Hayes explained that bringing in an outside consultation company had been favoured over the cheaper options of a web-only consultation and an in-house consultation due to the wider range of residents they will be able to reach and the expertise that Research for Today will be able to bring to the process.

Officers will now determine which services will be involved in the public consultation ahead of the workshops and face-to-face interviews which are expected to start in June.