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Online game lets pupils make cuts

Moray pupils are to use a computer game to slash and save public services - and their decisions will form part of the authority's real-life budget process, in what is a UK first.

It is hoped that Moray Budget Challenge, launched today, will get teenagers involved in tackling the looming financial pain.

Aimed at the 16-24 age group, the online challenge uses real information from Moray Council and Grampian Police budget proposals.

Players decide where to make cuts, but are presented with consequences. It is easy to drag an arrow over the school and pupil support budget - but that might seem less attractive when a box pops up to explain the youth orchestra's summer schools' week will be scrapped.

Short videos have young people explaining each budget area, and cartoon figures represent different services. Click on the light bulb next to a council bureaucrat and a "radical idea" will come up, such as saving #163;1.5 million by closing a secondary school and several primaries.

A pile of coins shows the proportion of cash that must be saved to achieve the required 3 per cent budget cut. Once a player is happy with the balance sheet, plans can be sent to Moray Council at the click of a button.

Communications officer Peter Jones and corporate policy development manager Bridget Mustard came up with the idea. Mr Jones said that in a month when turnout was only 28 per cent for the Forres ward by-election, it was vital to connect young people with local issues by speaking their language.

George Sinclair, head of educational development services, said the game could be used in citizenship lessons and was an example of how to meet the Curriculum for Excellence aspiration of stronger connections between classroom and the outside world.

The game, funded by the Scottish Government, was designed by Delib, a Bristol-based online consultation specialist. It already provides a basic budgeting simulator to more than 40 UK local authorities, but this is the first time it has been turned into a game.

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