Satisfaction with councils maintained despite some turbulence

Satisfaction with local councils is holding up despite uncertainty around council budgets and Brexit.

After a disappointing low this time last year our most recent residents’ survey shows a gradual increase in several areas. However, there is still work for us to do to better engage our residents.

As part our or work to help councils track their own resident satisfaction, we carry out a representative poll to determine what people think about their council and local area every four months.

Our latest survey, carried out in June, showed that:

  • 80 per cent of people are satisfied with their local area as a place to live. Last year, this figure fell below 80 per cent for the first time since 2012, so it’s encouraging that this figure is moving in the right direction.
  • 63 per cent are satisfied with the way their council runs things. This is also up after a series of disappointing results over the past year.
  • 59 per cent of people feel that their council acts on the concerns of residents – this is a significant improvement on last year’s figure – and a key area for us to focus on to better engage residents in local decisions.
  • More than half (59 per cent) of people say their council keeps them well informed – this is another significant increase from June last year.
  • Trust in councils is not too dissimilar to previous rounds - 58 per cent say that they trust their council
  • Councillors remain by far the most trusted elected representatives (72 per cent) to make decisions about how services are provided in the local area – when compared to MPs at 9 per cent and Government ministers at 5 per cent.

Taken as a whole, it’s encouraging that, despite the tough times, financial constraints and uncertainty around Brexit, councils are still seen as doing a good job. This doesn’t mean though, that as communicators we can be complacent. We need to acknowledge that while most people trust their council and feel informed about what it does – two key indicators for communicators –their level of satisfaction is low compared to previous years.

We know that many communications team budgets have taken a hit but when faced with limited resources and shrinking budgets, success often means thinking outside the box and utilising the resources of others – as many have done really successfully.

Somerset’s decision to take part in BBC Panorama’s ‘Crisis in Care’ documentary for example, which followed the county council’s attempt to navigate the social care crisis is a fantastic example of strategic communications, owned by the whole organisation. The majority of councils will have been able to relate to the stark subject matter, but the documentary can also teach us some valuable lessons as communicators.

Led from the political and managerial top of the organisation, they were able to clearly show the constraints that had been placed on them and the limited the choices that were available to them. Being able to let residents see and understand these limitations is important because we know that the more informed people feel, the more likely they are to be satisfied with the way their council runs things and to trust them to make the right decisions. They were also able to see the amazing job that council staff, in often difficult circumstances, do for them every single day.

How many of us would have taken the decision to allow Panorama no holds barred access to our work for months on end? Somerset’s decision paid off. By letting Panorama in, the council was able to explain the difficult choices they, and indeed all councils had been forced to make in terms of cuts and spending to residents.

Listening to Mark Ford, the councils communications manager recently, he describes the eight months of filming as having little impact on his team’s their resources until the days leading up to the documentary airing. The show was watched by millions across the country and received further coverage in print and broadcast media. It’s a great example of how to use the power of good communications and telling human stories.

Of course, it’s not every day we have to decide if we’re going to lay bare our work to a Panorama film crew. But it should encourage us to think more creatively about the ways in which we communicate with our residents and indeed, how we can use them to help tell our story. It can be powerful stuff.

We’re working with LGcomms, Solace and the PRCA to support communicators through our #FutureComms resource. Whether it’s through behaviour change, effective crisis communications or place branding, we must make the case for effective strategic communications and its importance to our ability to facing the big challenges in local government today.

Some of you add value to your own residents’ surveys by uploading the results to our online benchmarking tool to help review how your council is performing. The more councils that get involved, the more powerful the tool becomes, so we really appreciate your contributions.

David Holdstock, Director of Communications, Local Government Association

Posted on 7th August 2019