Reputation of local government growing stronger

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LGinsight/Populus Perceptions of Local Councils National Poll July 2011

Residents are more positive about their local council than they were at the start of the year. Seven in ten (71%) GB adults are satisfied with the way their council runs things and half (50%) think their council provides local people with good value for money. The findings come from the latest poll from LGinsight/Populus which has been tracking perceptions of local councils since October 2010. They show that as councils have engaged more with their residents, services have improved and negative media is relatively easing off, so the reputation of local government grows stronger.

The low point for council reputation was January 2011. In the face of an avalanche of snow, ice, Eric Pickles and the Daily Mail satisfaction with local authorities fell from 69% in October 2010 to 62% in January. At the same time perceptions of value for money also fell (51% to 42%).

There was a clear service failure. Seven in ten (70%) Britons said they were dissatisfied with the way their council had cleared ice and snow from pavements, with nearly a quarter dissatisfied with refuse collection (22%) and street cleaning (23%). The day before fieldwork on the January survey started the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was quoted in the Daily Mail discussing his opposition to fortnightly bin collections; ‘If we don’t sort this issue, we will set the cause of localism back by a generation, by creating an army of residents who view their council with resentment rather than respect’1 This was after a month of stories attacking councils for wasteful spending, high senior salaries and missed bin collections.

In hindsight the fact that three in five (62%) of residents were still satisfied with the way their council ran things in January might have been more of a surprise. By June it had bounced up five percentage points (67%). This trend has continued into July with findings much more in line with that of October 2010. The June study was carried out in conjunction with the LGA and many more questions were asked probing on the reasons why people felt the way they did. The conclusion was that “if someone loathes their council it is probably because they have personally had a poor service, have experienced a council activity they think is wasteful, or think their council hasn’t listened to them.” Although negative media was seen to have some impact it was more to reinforce existing views than formulate new ones. The overall conclusion was that the reputation of local government was more resilient than those working in the sector might have thought. The improvements to service delivery over the previous decade and the work of the LGA Reputation Campaign had worked in encouraging at least some residents to appreciate the job their local authority does.

Comparing January to July satisfaction with refuse collection has gone from 73% to 80%, with only 15% of residents now saying that they are dissatisfied with the service. The real issue for the public is road maintenance with over half (55%) dissatisfied with the quality of this service.

The July poll shows for the first time national benchmarks on satisfaction with a range of other services from libraries (67%), pavement maintenance (52%) to services and support for vulnerable children and young people (51%) and adults (43%). These are all services which are not only important to understanding how people feel about their council, they are the most likely to feel the impact of any cuts to spending. Considering the relatively small proportion of residents in a local area that is likely to use services for vulnerable people it is worth noting that the majority of the population give a view. Only around one in five say they “don’t know” in terms of rating these services.

One of the most dramatic changes between June and July 2011 is the increase from 29% to 37% in the number of people saying that they have been kept well informed about their council’s plans to deal with any proposed reductions to their budget. At the same time the number of people saying that their council takes account of residents’ views when making decisions has gone from 40% to 47%. This shows that councils are engaging more with their residents about the tough decisions they are making, at the same time as their reputation is improving. Could it be that as more people become aware of what their local authority provides they are more favourable towards them? Certainly among those who feel informed about these budget plans nearly nine in ten (87%) say they are satisfied with their council, compared to only six in ten (59%) being satisfied among those who don’t feel informed.

The media is increasingly being perceived as more favourable towards local councils - although not too gushing in its praise. Back in June just 9% of Britons felt that the media had viewed local councils across the country positively. This has nearly doubled to 17%. Similarly just one in six (16%) residents thought the media had been positive to their local council or the government. Perceptions of positive media coverage has remained relatively the same for the government (18%), but has nearly doubled to 30% for residents. own local council. There are now more people feeling that the media has viewed their local council positively (30%) than negatively (25%) in the last few months. The rest feel coverage is neutral or say they don’t know.

Seven in ten (69%) of those who think that coverage of councils across the county has been negative say they are satisfied with their council. Just under six in ten (56%) of those who think national or local coverage of their local council has been negative feel likewise. The public can distinguish between the two and consider information about their council more important than councils in general. Councils therefore have to ensure that they are not distracted by whatever storms are brewing nationally so that they can engage with their own residents about what they are doing to steer a safe course locally.

Technical note

Populus carried out telephone interviews with 1,003 GB adults aged 18 and over between 15th and 19th July 2011 as part of their Omnibus study on behalf of LGinsight. Data is weighted to the known profile of the country. Findings are compared to previous studies conducted by LGinsight/Populus in October 2010, January 2011 and June 2011. The study from June 2011 was in partnership with the LGA and was part of a larger study.

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 view the full report please click the link below.

Posted on 26th July 2011