A huge gulf exists between council chief executives and local residents over perceptions of the political importance of immigration and crime, a new survey suggests.
An Ipsos MORI study for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers shows four percent of chief executives believe crime is the most important issue facing theUK,while none considered immigration to be the most vital.
In comparison, 41% of the general population regarded crime as one of the four main issues the country faces and 43% felt the same way about immigration, according to the pollsters' September political monitor survey.
Ben Page, chair of the Ipsos MORI social research institute, said chief executives need the courage to get on with what they think needs to be done rather than follow public opinion, because many residents had little understanding of key issues. He cited a finding that while 76% of the public think immigration is a big problem in Britain, only 18% thought it was a problem in their area.
Mr Page said: "The general public haven't the faintest idea what is going on because they rely on all sorts of erroneous sources of information like the national press and gossip, whereas chief executives by in large will have a much more informed understanding."
He said the challenge for chief executives was how to take public opinion with them on the many difficult decisions they face in the future.
He recommended they follow Londonmayor Ken Livingstone, who overcame opposition to the congestion charge by "leading opinion and making an impact".
Rodney Green, chief executive of Leicester City Council, said differences of opinion between the public and chief executives were a good thing.
"On some things we should be responsive to serve and on other things we should be conducive to lead," he said.
"The challenge for public opinion researchers is to question the public so that they give credit and courage to our political leaders to do things that they themselves are not keen to do, but know need to be done."