A Scottish local authority has launched an online tool to help residents better understand how it allocates £350m in annual spending.

Stirling Council’s ‘Budget Simulator’ even allows local citizens to set their own draft budget according to their own preferences.

The move is designed to ‘enhance public engagement with the ongoing journey to set the Council’s budget for 2020/21’.

The platform will be live until midnight on Sunday, 20 October 2019.

The results from completed simulators will be collated and passed to Councillors, giving the people of Stirling a unique opportunity to inform the decisions taken by the 23 Elected Members at next year’s Budget Setting meeting in February.

Council Leader, Cllr Scott Farmer, said: “Setting the budget is the most important action we take as Councillors each year, and this tool is an excellent way for the public to engage in that process.

“We pledged earlier this year to deliver a digital tool as part of our multi-channel engagement process and residents and staff can now shape their own draft budget to their own liking at the touch of a button.”

Stirling Council spends around £350m each year delivering services in education, social care, collecting bins and recycling, taking care of roads and ‘many other services valued by the public’.

In February this year, the Council approved a financial plan to safeguard vital services and protect the area’s most vulnerable people, which included more than £25.5million of capital investment.

The Council is facing another tough budget challenge next year, however, and potentially for the years to come, as costs go up and funding reduces, the authority said in a statement.

Cllr Farmer added: “Early indications show that the budget gap has grown since last year amid continued austerity mixed with rising costs.

“We could be faced with a gap of anywhere up to £10million but by getting the public to use the Budget Simulator, we’ll be able to better understand what matters most to our residents. We can then use that information to inform our decisions next year when the financial position will be clearer.”

Convenor of the Council’s Finance and Economy Committee, Cllr Margaret Brisley said: “We have always assessed every option in front of us to balance Stirling Council’s budget and we have always invested in services and our communities.

“Our Key Priorities are the roadmap for achieving this as Councillors but we also want to empower the public to have their say.

“The Budget Simulator will be a key part of this process and I hope communities across Stirling will engage with the tool to help inform our plans for next year.”

Stirling Council’s Communities Team will be visiting groups and events across Stirling in the coming weeks to promote the Budget Simulator. Full information on key dates will be released in due course.

Residents will also have the chance to provide fresh ideas and suggestions for investment and transformation through the simulator, which will be taken into account when submissions are made.

For more information and to download a ‘how to’ guide visit: https://my.stirling.gov.uk/council-democracy/budget/budget-2020-21/