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LGA CONFERENCE: PUBLIC PUTS LITTLE FAITH IN GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON PUBLIC SERVICES

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- 70 per cent of the public has little or no confidence in national ...
- 70 per cent of the public has little or no confidence in national

government's ability to spend money wisely on public services in their area

- Only five per cent less were confident of local governments' ability to

address public service problems relevant to them

- 61 per cent of people questioned think that the way forward lies in

public/private partnerships

When it comes to the timely provision of public services, national

government is almost unanimously doubted in its abilities, according to

research commissioned by the Local Government Association and hbl

media, providers of LGAtv. The research, carried out by YouGov Ltd,

illustrates public attitudes towards local and national governments' ability

to identify and address public service needs in individual areas. It also

looks into the issue of allowing greater freedom to local government,

permitting local authorities more control and decision-making power over

issues important to individual areas.

Timed to coincide with the LGA Conference 2003, and released at a time when

political parties' are beginning to draw up agendas for the forthcoming

general election, the research suggests that few people trust the government

to decide and allocate budgets for public services in their area; only three

per cent of those questioned admitted having a great deal of faith in the

governments' abilities.

Going against tradition perhaps, northerners were identified as one of the

most contented areas of the UK while the newly disillusioned South topped

the results, with 73 per cent of southerners expressing a lack of belief in

national governments' abilities in this field.

Local government fared little better with only 32 per cent of southerners

admitting to have any faith that local government was able to identify and

respond to their needs. When asked if they would prefer local councils to

have more freedom to address public services on a regional level or if

uniform services across the country were the priority even at the expense of

local government freedom, respondents were almost evenly divided with a

47/42 per cent split in favour of councils having more freedom.

Pertinent to many of the issues being raised and investigated at the LGA is

the partnership between local councils and private businesses in the area

and the potential successes such partnerships can bring. When questioned

about this type of public/private partnership the response was most

certainly positive. 61 per cent of all those questioned thought that local authorities should actually be working more closely with local businesses. This positive tone was consistent across the spectrums of region, political persuasion and

social class.

When questioned about current hot topics, such as the possibility of the

London congestion charge being extended across the country in order to raise

funds for public services most respondents baulked at the prospect. A second

proposal was put to respondents: under a neutral rearranging scheme,

motorists would pay a charge for driving in congested areas however, the

charge would be offset by lower road tax and petrol duties. This scheme

would result in drivers living in rural areas or those using their using

their cars very little being charged very little. Conversely, drivers using

their car a lot in towns and cities would pay for the privilege. The

majority of respondents were in favour of the 'you get what you pay for'

solution, only 39 per cent of drivers were opposed.

Peter Kellner, chairman of YouGov says of the results:

'This poll contains good news and bad news for local government. The good

news is that local councils are more widely trusted that national government

to spend public money wisely. The bad news is that there is still much work

to be done in order to build trust and confidence. This scepticism needs to

be addressed if the public is to reconne ct with the political process.'

He continues: 'Working more closely with business could help. Six out of ten

people would like local councils to co-operate more with local business;

only five per cent want councils to work less closely. The consensus on this

crosses party lines. It's significant that clear majorities among supporters

of all three main parties back closer council-business links.

As for revamping the way motorists are charged, YouGov's figures indicate

that the key to winning over the public is to make the issue one of

rebalancing the tax and charging system. If motorists are charged to pay

more to drive in congested areas, the public, and motorists themselves, are

likely to accept the change; but congestion charges in city centres simply

imposed as an added cost would be unpopular.'

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