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MAJOR SURVEY SHOWS ATTITUDES TO LOCAL GOVERNANCE

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A major survey of the public's and councillors' attitude to issues of local governance is published today by Strath...
A major survey of the public's and councillors' attitude to issues of local governance is published today by Strathclyde University as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's local governance programme.

Local Governance & Local Citizenship: A Report on Public and Elite Attitudes, reveals views on issues as diverse as council services, the influence of central government, the management and accountability of local government quangos, and the role of directly elected assemblies and council leaders.

Professor Gerry Stoker, the ESRC Local Governance Programme director, said: 'The research shows that people are concerned about what has happened to local government. They feel uncomfortable about the rise of unelected quangos. Perhaps that is why support for the introduction of a directly elected leader is so high. It is seem as a way of injecting accountability and legitimacy back into the system.'

In parallel to favouring American-style elected mayors, the public gives local councils a satisfaction rating of 6.5 out of ten. Additionally:

-- Over 85% of the public and councillors think local communities rather than central government should decide which services local government should provide.

-- 65% of the public, and 78% of councillors, think central government influence over councils is too much

-- Just under 50% of Tec/Lec and health authority members support a political party, and of those over half are Conservative.

-- 42% of Tec/Lec and health authority members said they should be left to manage themselves.

-- 64% of the public and 73% of councillors thought local quangos should be accountable to local councils.

-- Elected regional assemblies are favoured by over 50% of the public in England, the figure rising to over 60% in London, and the north west, and to over 70% in Scotland.

-- While 70% of the public favour directly elected council leaders, only 16% of councillors agree.

Professor William L Miller of Glasgow University and Malcolm B Dickson of Strathclyde's department of governance prepared the report after interviewing a random sample of 2203 members of the public throughout Britain, 778 elected district councillors in Scotland England and Wales, 569 members of training and enterprise councils (local enterprise councils in Scotland) and 334 members of district health authorities (health boards in Scotland). The interviews took place between November 1994 and June 1995.

The report observes: 'Local councils are still well thought of, and there is a large measure of resistance to moves to break the traditional role local authorities have played. The current system, with a prime role for the elected council, is favoured to newer solutions of mixed public and private sector provision.

'There is a degree of suspicion about the role of non-elected bodies in local decision making and whether they can be trusted to use their powers wisely. We have found public support for elected mayors and local referenda to be high, and also found further evidence suggesting a shift of opinion in favour of elected assemblies in England.

'Yet we have also found that the national dimensions of politics and the state in Britain play a large role in shaping people's expectations of the relationship between themselves and those who govern them. There is clear evidence that the local basis of citizen politics is weak. Building bridges to non-stakeholders must be a key concern of the local governance debate in future if current reform is to locate itself in a legitimate framework of citizen politics in the next century.'

Copies of the report can be obtained from Professor Gerry Stoker, ESRC Local Governance Programme, Department of Government, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow G1 1XQ. Tel: 0141 552 4400 ext 2230.

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