How residents' views of councils are changing

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This report represents the second piece of work commissioned by LGcommunications of LGinsight. It looks at a national opinion survey carried out at the end of January 2010 on whether residents are prepared for local budget cuts. This report is designed to open up a debate on whether residents have been properly informed and engaged with the process, and how local government can help residents understand and deal with the situation.

This report presents some established local government “benchmark” questions and some new questions explicitly on how councils provide information to residents, and satisfaction with various local services. However, more importantly it presents some new analysis and insight into what these findings mean, the principles of which can be replicated and tested by local authorities.

Since the last LGInsight/Populus poll in October 2010, there has been a noticeable shift in the national mood. Residents across Great Britain are less satisfied with their councils, less likely to feel informed about services and benefits, less likely to feel their council offers good value for money, and less likely to feel their council takes account of their views when making decisions.

However, some areas of the country are still holding up. In the North East and East of England, residents are still relatively satisfied with their councils. Informed levels amongst residents in the East are also still higher than the overall informed rating in October 2010.

The poll highlights how residents across the country are relatively satisfied with regular council services such as refuse collections and street cleaning. However, after the recent heavy snowfall in December and January, feelings are mixed over how well councils dealt with clearing snow and ice from roads and pavements. Again, there are interesting regional variations. In Scotland and London, residents gave above average ratings for how their councils dealt with snow and ice. In the East Midlands however, ratings were noticeably below average.

Residents who previously felt that the range and quality of services, as well as they value for money they receive from their council would stay the same are now more likely to rate these measures negatively. Younger residents are more likely to believe that the level of council tax they pay will go up over the coming year, while middle aged residents are more likely than average to feel that service range and quality will decrease.

Keeping residents informed about any changes is key, and results from this poll show that council publications play a key role in keeping residents informed. Further, those that have seen their local council publication but who have not read their local newspaper are more likely to feel informed about services and benefits, more likely to be satisfied with their council, and more likely to feel that their council gives good value for money compared to residents who have read both their local paper and council publication, or just their local newspaper. Residents want to find out information about any potential changes to services or budgets through their local paper and council publications. Importantly, half of residents say they would like to receive information from their councillors, when only a small proportion of residents actually currently speak to their councillors.

The main body of this report is an analysis which identifies five main groups of residents based on their views of the future in terms of local government resources from central government, Council Tax levels and service quality, quantity and value for money. The five groups are: 

  • Contented (13% of GB adults): This group are well educated and well informed. They feel that the range and quality of services will go down over the next year, but are still satisfied with their council, and are accepting of changes that may occur.
  • Optimists (22% of GB adults): Characterised by optimism that things will stay the same.
  • Unconcerned (19% of GB adults): Read the tabloids and don’t tend to get involved in politics. They are relatively satisfied with their council and generally feel that service range and quality will stay the same.
  • Pessimists (32% of GB adults): As with the Contented residents they keep up-to-date on issues, but reach a completely different conclusion. Compared to the average they are dissatisfied with their council and don’t feel they get good value for money. They are likely to think that service range and quality will decrease over the coming year.
  • Cynics (13% of GB adults): Don’t think the council takes account of their views when making decisions and are not overly satisfied with their council. Likely to read their local newspaper but not their council publication.

These groups closely tie in with relative levels of satisfaction and informed levels. The more critical residents are also more likely to rely on local newspapers than council publications.

The evidence of this report is that council publications provide a vital depth of information about service range, quality and budget choices which local newspapers do not provide. Over half of GB adults read both a council publication and a local newspaper (53%) in the last 2-3 months, and they are better informed and satisfied with the council than those who just rely on the local newspaper alone.

Neil Wholey is Chair of LGinsight and Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council. You can follow him on Twitter @neilwholey

To read the full report please click on the link below.

Posted on 28th February 2011