Residents have come out in force to have their say on the future of Woking Borough Council – although a former councillor has labelled the whole process a “publicity stunt”.

The local authority is asking people what they value most as it looks to cut art, culture, sport, leisure and independent living to the bone in order to balance its budget and get out of its £2.6 billion debt.

The survey, which closes on August 10, has already had more than 6,500 responses, far outstripping the hoped-for 500 leader of the council Ann-Marie Barker predicted last month.

The cuts are needed, the council said, to bridge an £11 million annual budget shortfall as well as to demonstrate to the Government that it has done everything in its power to slash spending and increase income ahead of any potential bailout.

The council said it will become “smaller” as a result of the cuts and called on residents to help shape its future. Former Woking councillor John Bond, however, has criticised the practice in an open letter to the borough’s chief executive.

He said asking residents “how they would like to be punished” without knowing all the details puts them in an “impossible position”.

The letter read: “Woking residents have only days to decide how they would like to be punished for Woking council’s failure.

“They are asked whether they wish to lose vital community facilities, lose essential services, pay more council tax, pay more for parking – or possibly all four and more.

“Despite being put in this impossible position, residents still have no real knowledge on why this is needed; the relative value of the different assets and services; or even what will actually happen if they make a choice.

“It also seems likely that their choice is irrelevant as they will probably have to suffer every one of the options as a consequence of this council’s bad decision making.

“Given the almost complete lack of information available, this survey feels like a publicity stunt to pretend that the new council is taking firm action.

“When in fact its failures in transparency and openness are very similar to the failures of the previous regime.”

The council, he said “needs to provide full and easy access to all relevant items” as well as reports prepared by the auditors and Government commissioners.

Mr Bond added: “Only then will residents be in a position to make an informed judgement on what has happened and what they would like to happen.”

Cllr Barker said she was saddened that some felt the engagement survey was a waste of time as it presented a “genuine opportunity” to inform the future of discretionary services.

She said: “Considering the significant financial challenges the council faces, including the need to bridge an £11 million budget shortfall in 2024/25, we may need to increase charges, transfer the delivery of services to partners or not provide the service at all so it is important that residents have their say.

“We are extremely grateful to the thousands of residents and interested parties that have already taken the time to tell us their views. However, we want to hear from as many of you as possible.”

She added: “Public council and committee reports have always been available to residents and other interested parties via the council’s website.”

Responses will help the council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy, expected to be presented in September.

Residents and stakeholders will be able to give a more comprehensive view when full consultation on individual services begins in the autumn.

Those wishing to view council and committee agendas, reports and minutes can do so by visiting