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

Examination of Witness (Questions 360 - 379)



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 councillors.

  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.

Mr Burstow

  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.

Mr Burstow

  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 is—and 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 to.

  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."

Lord Marlesford

  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?

  A. Yes.

  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 Panel—telephone wave 1"?

  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?

  A. Yes.

  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.

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Prepared 11 August 1999