Council satisfaction survey makes for sobering reading

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Satisfaction levels with local councils are now at their lowest point for the last six years.

We have carried out 20 representative polls of British adults since 2012, using six key indicators to determine what people think about their council and local area.

The most recent survey, carried out in June, makes for stark reading. It shows:

  • 79 per cent of people are satisfied with their local area as a place to live. A high level - but this is the first time it has dipped below 80 per cent.
  • 61 per cent are satisfied with the way their council runs things, which is significantly lower than the proportion in 16 of the last 19 polls.
  • 53 per cent of respondents feel their council keeps them informed - a significantly lower level than in all previous surveys.
  • 56 per cent said they trust their council - the lowest rate recorded in our polls.
  • 53 per cent feel their local authority acts on the concerns of residents, which is lower than in 16 of the previous 19 rounds.
  • 45 per cent think their council provides value for money - the lowest recording across all our polls.

The findings are sobering, but it's important to put them in context. Satisfaction levels with local government have remained resolutely strong, despite years of financial constraints. That most people have remained content with their council through such a difficult period is a success story. When asked who they would prefer to make decisions about services in their area, 68 per cent said their local councillor compared to 13 per cent for MPs and seven per cent for ministers. The latest poll also shows residents overwhelmingly favour giving councils more power over business rates, housing and skills – as well as greater funding for adult social care and children's services.

We have seen dips in satisfaction levels in previous surveys - typically during the February round of polling when poor weather, and perhaps council tax bills arriving on people's doormats, make people less predisposed to be favourable about their local authority. Normally the results rebound come the summer, but not this time. We are now seeing proof that years of tightened spending on services is starting to have an impact on people’s perceptions of them.

For communicators, there are two indicators in this poll which should concern us. Only 53 per cent of residents think their council keeps them informed - down 10 per cent from last October and 16 points lower than the high of 69 per cent recorded in January 2013. Levels of trust with local councils now sit at 56 per cent – an 11 per cent drop since last October.

These figures are important, because we know that the more informed people feel about their council, the more likely they are to be satisfied with the way it runs things.

In the same way that cuts to spending on services are having an effect on resident satisfaction with them, squeezes on communications budgets are clearly taking their toll too.

That is why the work LGComms, the LGA, Solace and the PRCA are doing through the #FutureComms resource is so vitally important. We must set out more effectively and boldly how strategic communications is integral to the big challenges in local government today - be it behaviour change, place branding or dealing with emergencies.

People feeling informed about the work of their local authority and trusting them to take decisions are not vanity aspirations - they are fundamental aspects of a healthy democracy.

The LGA has produced a guide to helping councils understand the views of their residents, including advice on carrying out surveys.

Matt Nicholls, LGA Head of Communications Support and LGcomms Executive member.

Posted on 24th July 2018