Some interesting results in a poll out today by ComRes for the Local Government Association. The essential message is strong backing for localism. The Government is reducing the money it hands over to councils but giving them greater freedom over how the spend what money they are given. Ring fencing is being reduced. The poll showed 63% of respondents thought decisions about cuts in their "local area" should be taken by councillors, compared to 17% who backed MPs, seven per cent who said civil servants and six per cent who said officials in Government agencies or Quangos.
Eric Pickles says he doesn't like the "salami slicing" approach to cuts – the public agrees. 78% backed protecting spending in some areas even though it would mean bigger cuts elsewhere. However, later in the poll, when respondents were asked which "services should be protected from cuts" most services had majorities in favour. (Although in the case of Leisure Services, Social Housing and Environmental Health Officers majorities were in favour of cuts.) There is a flaw in questions which conflate cutting services and cutting spending. My council does a better and cheaper job at sweeping the streets and emptying the bins than it did four years ago. That scenario is not allowed for with the question: "Should rubbish collection be protected from cuts?"
59% thought that quangos should be reduced before any cuts are made to local public services. 55% thought the amount councils have to report to central government should be reduced before any cuts are made to local public services. 59% thought the number of civil servants should be reduced before any cuts are made to local public services. Two thirds of people (68%) thought there are too many organisations to deal with to access local services.
There were also encouragement for the Big Society vision of more volunteering. 38% agree (11% strongly agree and 27% tend to agree) with the proposition:
Local spending cuts would make me more likely to volunteer to help with the running and delivery of local services.
Baroness Eaton, Chairman of the Local Government Association, says:
“Councils deliver hundreds of frontline services, from protecting vulnerable children to helping elderly people live independently in their own homes. They have made huge efficiency savings in recent years, and the scope to make further savings without cutting services is limited.
“We know the public sector is facing deep cuts in the Government’s spending review. We have laid out practical plans to deliver big savings by cutting out unnecessary waste and red tape in the system and devolving control over public services to local people who know best what their areas need.
“This opinion poll is a vote of confidence in town halls. People trust their local councillors to make tough decisions about spending in their area more than they trust national politicians. As the democratically elected voice of local people, councils should be at the centre of deciding on spending in their area.
“Simplifying the way public services work and cutting out duplication will make it far easier for people to get the help they need to find work, get training or get help with dozens of issues from health to housing.
“More importantly still, we need to take decisions out of the hands of unelected quangos and Whitehall civil servants and give them to local people. Where providers like GPs and colleges buy services on behalf of people, local councillors can champion the interests of local people.
“The public will not forgive politicians who do not strip out unnecessary layers of bureaucracy in other parts of the public sector before cuts are made to council budgets. We need the Government to loosen the control of Whitehall and send a message that local people must come first and have a say over decisions that affect them.”