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Survey shows record high trust in councils

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The last-ever government survey of public attitudes towards citizenship has found trust in local government at a record high.

The 2010-11 citizenship survey found that 64% of respondents trusted their council – a higher percentage than in all previous years.

In addition, 86% of adults in England were satisfied with their local area as a place to live, showing a continued increase from 82% in 2008-09 and 83% in 2009-10.

However, in a blow to the government’s Big Society agenda, the survey showed levels of volunteering and civic participation stubbornly refusing to rise.

Twenty five percent of respondents said they had volunteered formally at least once a month in 2010-11 – a rate unchanged on 2008-09 and 2009-10 levels but still lower than at any point between 2001 and 2007-08.

Similarly, 34% of people said they had engaged in civic participation at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey, a figure unchanged on 2009-10 but lower than in any year before then.

Junior local government minister Bob Neill (Con) said the results showed that councils were still able to improve services, despite funding cuts.

“Despite the need to pay off the deficit inherited from the last administration many councils are showing they can reduce costs, while at the same time improving services for their residents,” he said. “Central government is setting councils free, shifting power away from Whitehall and putting it back in the hands of councillors and councils giving them greater control their finances and putting them at the centre of driving local growth.”

The annual citizenship survey has been testing public attitudes to influencing decisions, volunteering, community cohesion, fear of crime and racial and religious prejudice since 2001. 

But this year’s survey will be the last, as the Department for Communities & Local Government has decided to cancel it in a bid to save the estimated £4m annual cost.   

A Cabinet Office spokesman said it would still need robust statistics on volunteering and would be announcing plans for collecting them shortly. 

However, Ellie Brodie, a researcher at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), said the end of the survey was bad news for those interested in monitoring the progress of the Big Society.

“We had some grave concerns about DCLG cutting the survey, as there isn’t any other source that provides data on that range of subjects,” she said. “It provides data over time that allows us to say whether volunteering has changed year on year and in the context of a big push to get people involved. 

“There is not going to be any other way of the government measuring the impact of those policies,” she added.

Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, said the figures were in fact positive in difficult economic times.

“It’s very encouraging that the decline in volunteering and civic participation has stopped,” he said. “And community spirit is on the rise, more people feel like they belong strongly to their neighbourhood than recorded at any time in the last decade.”

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