There’s a piece in the latest Local Government Association (LGA) First magazine, that could easily prove extremely misleading to elected members, given that it suggests that, despite all the budget cuts and threats to services, councils’ are doing okay.
The article is actually extracted from something written Neil Wholey, Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council – whatever that is, the job, not the council. Whilst the piece may not be inaccurate in any way, the author obviously knows his stuff and the facts are the facts, it’s certainly likely to offer a misleading picture to those who, when reading it, don’t bother to separate out the elements that make up a council.
As a LGA publication, it’s difficult not to see the magazine as primarily a vehicle for communicating with elected members, as opposed to the professionals and this where the misleading bit begins. The article called, Residents’ Views, tells the reader that, despite all the hardships being visited on taxpayers by government, local government’s reputation is doing surprisingly well.
I’ve no reason to doubt what the author is saying when it comes to public opinion, especially if the questions were asked in a way that avoids any reference to the politics of the council. The problem comes when an elected member reads this and either misses, or completely ignores, the basis on which the questions were asked. The public are expressing a view of their experience of the council, not the councillors.
I wonder what the answer would have been if, instead of asking, ‘overall do you think the council is providing good services in your area?’ they had asked, ‘how well do you think the (insert political group name as appropriate) are running your local council?’. By inserting politics into the question, you immediately invite a biased response, based on the politics of the person being asked the question. Taken a step further, even if the council is performing well, the fact that it is controlled by one, or other of the political parties, will be far more influential when it comes to an election, than any public satisfaction survey, however rosy a picture it paints.
My point is, that any politician reading this and taking it at face value, could be in danger of deluding themselves in to thinking that taxpayer satisfaction with ‘the council’, is the same as satisfaction with ‘the councillors’.