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
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
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
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.'