Examination of Witness (Questions 360
THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
360. The theme that has been consistent in everything
you have said is you think people want an individual leader who
they can hold accountable in some way, somebody who is charismatic
in some way. Under our existing system there are examples of council
leaders who are seen in that way and certainly the party campaigning
is on an individual even though people are voting for individual
A. Tony Blair.
361. You say you have done five metropolitan
areas. Have you managed to differentiate within those metropolitan
areas on the way the current leadership is actually seen? Are
there in those metropolitan areas leaders who are seen as particularly
strong and charismatic and others who are seen as men in grey
suits and does that affect the results of the polling? You could
argue it either way but does the current effectiveness of the
leadership affect the polling in the metropolitan areas?
A. To be honest, I do not think there is a great
deal of evidence that that is the case. I think it is an interesting
hypothesis but I do not think it is the case. Secondly, people's
awareness of who their councillors are even in places where we
have great luminaries as leaders is not particularly great. Awareness
of councillors is extremely low. The best known councillor MORI
has ever seen was the British National Party candidate in Millwall
when he finally got elected.
362. I wanted to come back to something you
said at the beginning of your opening remarks which was that there
were a number of other issues that were perhaps of greater concern
to the public than necessarily the solutions that were being offered
through the Bill and so on. Can you say a bit more about what
those other issues are that are rated as being more important
and needing solutions and, if so, say if any work has been done
on what the solutions might be?
A. I think there is a yearning to reconnect
political activism to civil society. At the moment politics is
separate from ordinary life. That is the back drop. In terms of
local authorities they do not want it to be party political, they
want the best person possible to do the job for them. They say
they would vote on people's individual characteristics rather
than their party. What they want is information about services,
they want to feel that they are being consulted before decisions
are made and that there is not this rather remote body with these
very strange agendas they do not understand, if they ever look
at them at all, they just want it to be much more meaningful and
relevant. At the moment if you ask them to describe their local
authority as an animal, in the case of a county it is something
perhaps hiding in the bushes off over there. It is not something
that is here in the same way a citizens advice bureau would be
described as a "lion that fights your corner" or something
like that. It just does not mean a lot of things to many people.
363. Right. Would it be fair to say, therefore,
that there are a number of other steps that could and should be
taken by local and central government first that could well lead
to the reconnection that you were talking of prior to the imposition,
not that we are talking about a Bill that is going to impose,
of elected mayors?
A. Yes and I think there are examples of local
authorities that are making some strides in that direction.
Sir Paul Beresford
364. Any of the 200 from the areas that are
making great strides?
A. Yes. Sutton is a very well-regarded local
authority, for what it is worth. There are Labour and Conservative
ones equally well regarded.
365. I did not pay the witness at all to mention
a local authority I used to be a member of!
A. People want to be kept informed about services.
They want to know how to access the services provided. They want
to see evidence that the authority is listening to them and reflecting
their concerns rather than the concerns of rather remote individuals
that are perhaps out the touch. They would like to see the profile
of members being more similar to the communities as a whole and
part of that isand again I touched on this in my evidence,
that people recognise when they give it some thought that the
demands on councils these days are such that certain sorts of
people are automatically excluded from standing even if they wish
366. The final question I have for the moment
is about the issue of the work that came out of your qualitative
work about concerns over the powers of mayors and the ability
to get rid of them if they are not doing what the public wants
them to do. Has any work to your knowledge been done, qualitative
or quantitative around various methods to enable the public to
exercise some continuing influence other than through the ballot
box for mayors?
A. This is something that has emerged spontaneously
in workshops that MORI has conducted for individual authorities
some of which have not yet been shown to the members, we are in
the process of doing it. Views do seem to vary dramatically from
place to place partly depending on the nature of the community
and what publicity there has been around the models. It is still
only a minority that gets that concerned about the detail. For
most people the local council is over there, not something we
talk about down the pub, but "The idea of an elected mayor
seems a good idea, doesn't it."
367. You mentioned earlier on that we have got
questions to ask and we have indeed got some. If I could deal
with two. On page 11 "Satisfaction with best value authorities",
first of all, in the printing in the top line "district"
is that 61 or 81 at the top?
A. What that shows in the districts
368. What is the figure?
A. 61 per cent satisfied and 18 per cent dissatisfied.
369. 61, right. If we take these figures, am
I right in thinking that they show, with the possible exception
of Metropolitan authorities, far more people satisfied than dissatisfied
with how things are at present?
A. That is true. You have got a quarter of the
population who are dissatisfied but over half in most cases who
are satisfied, yes.
370. If you had an opinion poll of how the government
is doing how would that compare generally?
A. It might be said it depends when we are asking.
The figures for local government are quite constant and have been
showing an upward trend. If you ask about the way Parliament works
and the way local government works, they are much more likely
to be satisfied with the way local government works than they
are to be satisfied with the way Parliament works.
371. Overall but the number of people who are
dissatisfied is smaller compared to the number of satisfied and
presumably those in between have no view?
A. The sort of thing the people in between say,
to quote somebody from a focus group in Dover "I simply do
not know enough about the council to judge"
372. They do not know?
373. So we have got these figures that show,
with the possible exception of the metropolitan authorities, that
nearly a third are dissatisfied.
A. This is only the best value pilots but it
is a broadly similar pattern. I do have other figures but I pasted
these in here.
374. I am asking about your evidence. If you
could turn to the one on local democracy you have given the question
and you have been given the answers. What is "People's Paneltelephone
A. It means we interviewed 3,006 people on a
people's panel of 5,000.
375. On the telephone?
A. Yes, right.
376. In each case you started off by telling
them that you were going to give them statements about opportunities
for them to be able to give their views on the way council services
are run, in other words it is a little unclear to me what that
question really means, your views on the way council services
in this area are run. The points on the left-hand side do not
seem to me to immediately relate to that. It is a method for them
to tell you whether they feel they have a good way of giving a
view. That is really what it is about?
377. In other words, whether they feel they
can participate in government.
A. Via these different methods.
378. So they would like them all.
A. They like anything that they think might
allow them to have a say, yes.
379. The one that they feel least enthusiastic
about is election of a local mayor.
A. Yes, as described there.