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Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 314 - 319)




Mr Page, good afternoon.
  (Mr Page) Good afternoon.

  314. Thank you very much for responding to our invitation. We do have the written evidence of MORI and we would be grateful if you would just draw our attention to any particular points you would like us to note before we go on to question you. We have of course had the opportunity to read your evidence in full.

  A. I think basically the evidence I am going to give is mainly about attitudes to the proposed three models, which of course excite a great deal of attention in local government at the moment. What the evidence shows as far as we are concerned at MORI is that mayors are popular, but having said that when one looks beyond that—and this is mainly in qualitative work and there is a lot of it going on at the moment—there are perhaps other concerns that people have about local government which are not necessarily, in the eyes of the public, being directly addressed in the draft Bill. That is my opening statement and I am happy to take questions.

Mr Pike

  315. When you say mayors are popular, mayors are popular doing a function now which is very different from what is being proposed in the draft Bill.

  A. Yes.

  316. A mayor goes to a school wearing his chain. In Lancashire they call them the "chain gang" when the Lancashire mayors are all together. They go to people's diamond weddings; they perform a very different function. So how do we know people really understand what the Bill is proposing for an elected mayor with responsibilities?

  A. When people are answering questions in opinion polls, they do not have a detailed understanding. What they are responding to when we see the majority is in favour is that they like the idea of being able to directly choose a figurehead with whom the buck stops to run their own authority. At the moment many people see their local authority councillors as rather anonymous and rather remote, and I could use another set of choice words which people often use to describe them in research we do up and down this country.

Sir Paul Beresford

  317. Where did you do your surveys and in what sort of numbers? In rural areas?

  A. I understand you have had Gerry Stoker give evidence, have you?

  318. Yes.

  A. I have seen his evidence so I will not repeat it but MORI conducted a survey of 1,000 people in the five main metropolitan cities which is reported, and we asked people whether they supported or opposed their city having a directly elected mayor. Secondly, we did some work with the Government's People's Panel and we asked people how they would like to have a say in what the council does and, as you can see in my evidence, 55 per cent of people said they supported an elected mayor as a means of doing that although, as I also pointed out, they chose other things ahead of that as a way of influencing the council.

  319. So you have done it in five inner city areas and with only 1,000 people, and if one asked about local government in most of the inner cities in this country there are difficulties in people's minds about local government whatever it is doing.

  A. I am not pretending the public has a detailed understanding of this and I would not want to suggest that.

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Prepared 11 August 1999