Confidence in the government has remained low since Theresa May became prime minister while faith in Labour’s leadership has plummeted to new depths, LGC’s latest survey of chief executives and senior officers has revealed as the two parties meet for their annual conferences.
Confidence survey one
Two months after Ms May became Conservative party leader and two months ahead of the autumn statement, there is continued uncertainty, and scepticism, over a number of key policy areas affecting local government.
In the run-up to the Conservative party conference, which starts on 2 October, 79% of the 206 council chief executives, service directors and senior managers that took part in LGC’s latest confidence survey believed the government was having a bad impact on both their council and the wider sector. That was, however, slightly better than the results in January, when we last surveyed senior officers, of which 83% thought David Cameron’s government was having a negative impact on their council.
When the responses from the latest survey were broken down, 67% of those working for district and metropolitan councils believed the government was having a negative impact on their local authority but this rose to 86% from county councils, 89% for unitaries, and 92% for London boroughs.
There has been a significant fall in confidence in the government’s economic policy since the start of the year, in which time Britain voted to leave the European Union.
Results showed the net confidence in the economy improving in a year’s time had fallen from -9% in January to -23% this month.
Net confidence in more power being devolved from Whitehall had dropped from -15% in January to -24%, while confidence in councils gaining more control over budgets slipped to -38% from -30%.
When participants were asked to rate their confidence in specific policy areas on a scale of one to 10, none were rated above five, as was the case in January.
Respondents were most optimistic about employment and skills and growth in business rates income, and most pessimistic about housing issues including the implementation of the extended right-to-buy to housing associations, tackling homelessness, and affordable/social housing policy.
Since the last survey communities secretary Greg Clark, widely viewed as a champion of local government, has departed to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and he has been replaced by Sajid Javid, formerly business secretary.
There has been a significant fall in confidence that the communities secretary understands local government. Mr Javid and his team achieved a net confidence rating of -42% compared with the -26% rating achieved by Mr Clark and his team.
There was a slight fall in confidence that Mr Javid’s team would champion local government in Whitehall too.
Confidence survey two
Despite this, there was an increased belief Mr Javid’s team would be fair and reasoned critics of the sector: -43% compared to -52% under Mr Clark, as well as growing confidence that Mr Javid will engage and consult with councils more than his predecessor.
Jeremy Corbyn retained his position as Labour party leader following a contest, the results of which were announced at the party’s conference last weekend.
But our survey showed a significant fall in confidence in the shadow ministerial team since January, and some of the lowest ratings since we started asking questions in relation to Labour’s leadership in July 2014.
Net confidence in the shadow cabinet’s understanding of local government fell from -11% last time to -43%.
Belief the Labour leadership would champion local government in Whitehall decreased to -25% from 0%.
There was also a fall in net confidence that the shadow ministerial team would engage and consult and be a fair critic of the sector.
The results come after Labour’s Local Government Association group leader Nick Forbes criticised his party’s parliamentary colleagues, claiming local councillors “despair of the state of our party nationally”.
Cllr Forbes, who is also Newcastle City Council leader, said MPs had “lost sight of the role of elected politicians, which is to serve the public” and appeared to criticise Mr Corbyn’s leadership when he said “the party nationally has to offer more than just protest”.
In June leading local government figures, including Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, signed a letter supporting a Labour leadership contest following a vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn by the party’s MPs. At the time Leicester City Council’s elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby called on Mr Corbyn to resign as he said at the time there was “no objective person who thinks that he can lead Labour to victory in the next general election”.