In a recent Written Answer, Kris Hopkins, the Local Government Minister, reflected on the evidence that despite local authorities having to cope with reductions in Government grant there has generally been an increase in satisfaction with council services.
Mr Hopkins said:
“We have not undertaken any assessment of staff morale, as employment decisions are a matter for local councils as employers. However, residents’ satisfaction is either the same or has increased according to independent surveys:
- Research by ICM has found that 57 per cent of the public think that the quality of public services has improved or stayed the same compared to five years ago. Recycling collections, parks and open spaces, leisure centres and refuse collections are areas where the public think services have particularly improved (ICM Research, BBC News Bailout Anniversary Poll: Attitudes towards public services, September 2013).
- Opinion research by PwC in 2014 has noted: ‘As with our 2013 survey, almost half of the public we surveyed were unaware of any reductions in local council services in their area. To some extent, this is a testament to the success of local authorities to date in focussing on internal efficiencies while protecting the frontline’ (PwC, The Local State We’re In: PwC’s annual local government survey, 2014, p.7).
- A Ipsos Mori survey in 2014 has found that two-thirds (63 per cent) of local residents have said that local authority budget reductions have not made a noticeable difference to services (Zurich Municipal, A new world of risk; change for good, July 2014, p.19).
- The number of respondents who were very or fairly satisfied with the way their local council runs things was 69 per cent in October 2010 (LGA, Polling on resident satisfaction with councils, September 2012). The latest 2014 figures were 70 per cent and 67 per cent (LGA, Polling on resident satisfaction with councils, Full report, January and July 2014).
“This shows the scope for the public sector to make sensible savings, whilst protecting frontline services and keeping council tax down.”
Mind you there was another point from Mr Hopkins that in the last financial year, 2013/14 council spending was higher – at £77.1bn – than in 2009/10 when it was £70.9bn. Those figures exclude education.
There are various provisos – after inflation is taken into account it will have been roughly frozen. There is also the extra remit for Public Health which was handed over from the NHS. Most positively the tax base has increased. While Council Tax rates have been kept down the revenue has gone up as more houses have been built. There are more businesses which means more revenue from the Business Rates.
I think that councils have still done well to improve services given the financial constraints. But it is misleading to talk about “savage cuts”.