Almost two-thirds of residents say local authority budget cuts have not made a noticeable difference to services, according to research.
An Ipsos Mori survey of almost 1,000 adults revealed 63% had not observed changes, despite a separate finding that 97% of councils had implemented “major operational changes”.
In the report, A new world of risk; change for good, 41% of respondents named the condition of roads and pavements as their top priority for local improvements.
Just under a third (30%) said job prospects should be the focus of councils’ work in the future, with almost the same number (29%) calling for more activities for teenagers.
Supporting cultural facilities, such as museums, was important to only 6% of those surveyed, while social care of children and families, the quality of the local environment, and community relations were almost as low down the list of priorities. Only 7% of people highlighted these.
The study from insurer Zurich Municipal also collected views from 70 council chief executives and board-level directors. Almost all leaders (95%) said local authorities were well equipped to manage the risks posed by further budget reductions, despite 94% saying budget pressures were a high-risk area.
This contrasted with fewer than half of members of the public (49%) saying they had confidence in councils’ abilities.
Zurich Municipal head of public services Paul Tombs said councils should be “proud” of the results. “Few people have noticed any impact on services, suggesting they are performing well in a challenging environment,” he said.
But he advised local leaders to strengthen public confidence in councils in the testing months ahead. “The greatest challenge for local authorities appears to be keeping communities informed about tough decisions,” he said.
“Now, given that communities appear to be pretty sympathetic to the challenges facing local government, they have an opportunity to build on this success and reassure people how they will continue to meet budget requirements while maintaining high-quality services.
“That means demonstrating they are managing the risks ahead and adopting long-term plans to ensure the continuing viability of public services.”
In a budget submission in February, the LGA warned that financial sustainability was the greatest challenge facing local public services.
It said councils would have to reduce services such as road maintenance, libraries, leisure services, arts centres, museums and youth clubs.