AXING money spent promoting business in the county is the common theme emerging from the 'Bucks Debates', residents were told today.

Taxpayers have been saying the £520,000 'economic development' budget could be slashed at a series of 'interactive' meetings on public spending cuts.

Cllr Bill Chapple, Deputy Leader at Buckinghamshire County Council, said at the High Wycombe debate this morning this was the area householders say could be cut.

Economic growth, which includes promoting business in the county, said to be an 'entrepreneurial heartland', has been put forward by residents at “every meeting”, he said.

The public meetings so far have faced criticism for low turnouts.

25 took attended today, taking part in group exercises looking at budgets, and a question and answer session, at High Wycombe library at Eden.

Cllr Chapple told residents the kind of decisions the council faces “really does search the soul”.

“It's not a game, it's deadly serious. What I wanted to make sure is that you have been part of this,” he told residents.

He said although he would “love to multiply” attendances by 100, it did not 'demean' the meeting.

The idea of merging the councils into one single authority was raised again.

It comes after the Free Press were told last week by BCC Chief Executive Chris Williams that £35m could have been saved per year, if the option had been taken up when researched four years ago.

(See related articles below).

But Cllr Chapple said, although he had been in favour, he could not now “re-write history”.

The majority of those who attended this morning felt it was a genuine consultation, not merely a PR exercise, when asked by Free Press Editor Steve Cohen, who chaired the meeting.

Sue Jones, who works in learning services for BCC, said: “I though it was a worthwhile exercise and gave us greater understanding of how difficult it is to work out where and how to make the cuts.”

William Schafer-Peek, 24, an unemployed translator, said: “I think it's part of a softening up process that there's going to be cuts and the idea there's nothing we can do about it.”

He said he disagreed with the level of cuts and added the council tax system is “seriously flawed”.

The new Government has pledged to freeze council tax for at least one year – giving authorities no choice but to make cuts and savings.

Downley resident Roger Lawson, retired, said: “I thought it was a genuine consultation and quite hard work (doing the group budget cuts exercise). The quality of the opinion and discussion was quite good.”