image of Liverpool. budget engagement with Liverpool City Council

Austerity has been tough on all UK local authorities, but councils in the midlands and north of the UK have been more heavily affected. Local authorities in the north of the country have had cuts of roughly double the percentage of their overall budget than those in the south. There’s also the fact that northern cities are on average more deprived, which means that councils will have higher spends on social services and are also less able to raise revenue from council tax.

Centre for Cities estimates that Liverpool has had the largest cuts per resident, equating to £816 per resident.

It’s little surprise, then, that mayor Joe Anderson, when faced with a fresh wave of cuts to the city’s budget from 2021, recently announced that he refuses to implement any further government cuts. He said in a statement:

“We have worked hard under enormous pressure to keep our libraries and children's centres open because they affect the life chances of people in Liverpool, these new cuts would mean losing those services and I'm just not going to do it.”

Joe Anderson

Budget engagement with Simulator

Liverpool's budget engagement with Simulator in 2017
Liverpool's budget engagement in 2017

Liverpool City Council have used Simulator three times in total to engage with the public on their finances: once in 2013, once in 2016 and once in 2019. Their second Simulator was a notable use of the tool because they were the first to use the ‘worst case’ model; that is, whereas with most Simulators, respondents can increase allocation to an area as well as decrease, Liverpool allowed respondents to decrease only. In other words, respondents were only able to cut funding. They couldn’t increase funding for a single service - and could only submit once they’d balanced the budget by making £30 million worth of cuts per year for three years.

Despite the intense financial pressure they were under, bringing Simulator on board was worthwhile. It served as a stark way of educating citizens on how government cuts were affecting Liverpool’s budget, and gave some insight into why essential services were being scaled back even though demand was increasing.

Screenshot of Liverpool's 2017 budget engagement
Liverpool's 2019 Simulator

Last year, Liverpool bought Simulator for a third time. Only this time, respondents were tasked with closing the budget gap of £57 million over a year - nearly double the amount in their previous Simulator. Respondents were able to increase funding to services, but only by one slider point, which equated to 5%.

On all three occasions, Simulator has been a way of illustrating the seemingly impossible decisions with which the city is faced. Just quoting figures doesn’t really mean a lot to the average citizen, who likely doesn’t know at all how much different services cost and how they’re weighted. But running an exercise like Simulator, where respondents have to make difficult tradeoffs, puts those numbers into context and fosters understanding in the process.