If you want to have residents who are satisfied with their council and think they get value for money, get Conservatives to run it for you. That is one of the headline findings of Ipsos MORI’s latest report on local authority performance.
Ipsos MORI’s latest report, entitled Mind the Gap: Frontiers of Performance V, has taken a whole range of different factors that impact on what people think about councils and looked at the Place Surveys that all English Councils undertook in 2008. It digs below the surface of raw scores to see who is doing best. We have looked at the extent to which resident ratings on quality of life as well as council performance are higher or lower than we would expect. This gives a more level playing field to show which councils do best and worst given their local circumstances.
A consistent theme is the general prominence of a number of inner London boroughs in our top performers across a number of variables. In particular one group of Conservative councils, and inner London as a whole, perform very well on perception-based corporate health measures. Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea stand out when we look at perceptions of council performance, not only in absolute terms, but also relative to a range of factors like diversity.
These three strikingly outdo our predictions for overall satisfaction with the council and/ or perceived value for money. In addition, satisfaction with both Wandsworth and Westminster Councils has actually increased since 2006/07, along with Hammersmith and Fulham, in marked contrast with the average downward trend for council satisfaction.
But it is not only Conservative-led inner London boroughs that emerge as top performers. Broadly speaking, while Tory authorities stand out in terms of value for money, and overall satisfaction, many Labour-led urban authorities do better than their relative levels of poverty and diversity would predict on feelings of cohesion and influence.
These include London boroughs such as Newham and Hackney, but also other urban areas in the north such as Manchester, and some districts like Stevenage. This pattern of the best Conservative-led local authorities being seen as particularly efficient and effective in their service delivery, with the some Labour-led authorities doing well on the wider aspects of engagement and cohesion is very broad-brush, but does seem to be reflected in the data. Does it reflect differing absolute political priorities in these different authorities?
Which areas perform best and worst? Inner London is the only part of England where satisfaction with councils has generally remained steady or rising. In contrast, outer London’s performance is more negative – a reversal of the position a decade ago – outer London councils appear disproportionately in our bottom 20 on ratings of value for money, and on quality of life. While there are structural challenges in outer London, inner London’s success is a testament to local political and managerial leadership.
As we enter a period of ever tougher decisions about public spending priorities, looking at comparative residents scores should help local government focus on what matters most to residents, and key quality of life issues.
By highlighting those local authorities which appear to be doing the best for their residents given their local circumstances on a range of different dimensions, our report should provoke debate about what ‘good’ performance looks like, beyond simple league tables – and as importantly, what is behind it. Although a Conservative government may be less interested in some of the apparatus around cohesion and “influence” that has built up over the last decade, whoever is in power will still need to make valid comparisons about what good looks like.