Examination of Witness (Questions 320
THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999
320. What I am getting at is, would you not
question the validity of the whole project?
A. A thousand interviews in the metropolitan
areas, which is what MORI has done, gives you a margin of error
for those metropolitan cities, where of course the attention is
most heavily focused, of 3 per cent95 times out of 100.
I understand, and we can look it up in the evidence if you want
to from Gerry Stoker, that he has also commissioned a poll form
ICM across Britain as a whole which also shows, if I remember
correctly, 66 per cent in favour. Lewisham's own poll, which again
I am not directly connected with, I believe showed 57 per cent
in favour. So the evidence on that one is probably fairly consistent,
that the idea of a directly elected figurehead is "popular".
Beyond that, we need to perhaps look and say, "What are people's
concerns and are they being addressed?" The answer is that
it goes some way to making local government more accountable,
as they see it, but perhaps not far enough. If you look at some
work we were doing recently in what is called a community workshop,
the public we have been saying, "This is all very well but
it is rather irrelevant to the services delivered."
321. Could I take you back a bit, Mr Page? Could
you tell me more about how much work MORI has done in the field
of finding out about people's views on local government? Could
you fill me in on that, because in a way we dived straight in
and I would find it useful if we backed up a bit and you told
me about MORI's work in this area?
A. MORI is probably the leading provider of
research by the private sector to local authorities and we have
conducted over 600 large-scale surveys for individual authorities
up and down this country, starting in Southwark in 1979. In the
paper I have given you trend data and I have also sent to the
Committee a list of the actual work that we have done, but it
is very substantial. We also are involved in providing opinion
poll data for the evaluation of best value for the DETR and every
year we work for around 100 different local authorities. A lot
of that work is not just opinion polls and the sort of surveys
we were talking about earlier in the metropolitan areas, it is
actually qualitative work where perhaps we are talking to small
groups of residents without a very fixed script to truly try and
understand what they see as the issues, what concerns them, and
talk about that in their language.
322. I wanted to explore some of the quantitative
work specifically related to the polls in metropolitan areas that
we started to discuss just now, and then perhaps ask one question
about qualitative work because it might be useful to hear a bit
more about that. In the written evidence you have already supplied,
you refer to the issue of the various models of governance that
are being proposed by Government in this document as not having
a high salience with the public. I wonder if you can now or in
written form later give us the statistics which came out of the
polling in respect of the numbers of people who had no opinion
one way or another?
A. It is about 15 per cent. Also in the polls
we did for the new local government network, one person in five,
19 per cent, said they were opposed to the idea.
323. My question about the qualitative work
is really to ask if you have any views about the development of
citizens' panels which are now being set up by a number of local
authorities and indeed by central government as well, whether
or not they do provide a useful tool for local authorities in
determining policy matters and issues around service delivery,
and indeed whether or not they present any methodologically unsound
evidence to the way in which they work?
A. Local government's increasing use of panelsand
MORI runs over 20 panels for individual local authoritiesmeans
that giving people (ie members and officers) robust and reliable
views of what the public's views are of services and indeed councillors,
the whole way the authority operates and what people's priorities
are for an area, helps the local politicians make better informed
decisions. It does not replace decision-making but it helps them
make better informed decisions. However, it is worth saying in
passing that in methodological terms the most compelling reason
for having a panel is in order to understand how the views of
individuals on that panel are changing. If you just want to know
how public opinion is changing you can do tracking research, and
it is fair to say that so far although they are only two or three
years into this programme most local authorities do not do very
much work looking at why individual's views are changing, so one
could argue in methodological terms the use of panels is not necessarily
always the most appropriate. However, some people are using panels
not just to understand what their residents are thinking but also
to develop closer relationships with groups of residents, so you
have a choice for the panelif you are interested in this
argumentbetween conditioning and attrition. If you want
people to keep taking part, you have to make it worth their while,
and I am sure Lewisham can tell you a few things they do with
their panel. It does involve giving people information, making
them realise why they should bother taking part in these continued
surveys that they are being asked to do. By giving people that
information and by getting them into closer contact with politicians,
there is a danger they become atypical but this is something which
needs to be weighed up. Certainly on the Government's People's
Panel, there is very little evidence of that happening and it
is more an issue about attrition.
Earl of Carnarvon
324. Mr Page, how much investigation has been
done, how much polling, in rural areas? You have not mentioned
A. I am not aware of any that look exclusively
at rural areas, although I would imagine that the ICM survey could
be broken down to look at rural areas. One thing we have done
is to look occasionally at people's views in the counties and
in two-tiering at the idea of mayors, and there is a great deal
of confusion as to what might happen if, say, a county had a mayor
or perhaps a prefect or a governor, then there were local mayors
in each of the boroughs. Secondly there is a bit of concern in
London which is, "Hang on, we have a mayor in this borough,
there is a Mayor of London and an MP and an MEP and there is a
Greater London Assembly", and some people find that rather
325. I am not surprised. Could you tell me what
information you have as regards the public understanding the separation
of functions between the executive and the scrutiny committee?
I imagine that the general public would think that would gobbledegook.
A. If you start talking about the scrutiny committee,
most people do not know what you are talking about. Having said
that, they do want a reasonable system of checks and balances,
and they are not particularly obsessed about the speed of decision-making,
what they are interested in is the quality of decision-making
and feeling they have been consulted before rather than after
decisions are made by their local authority. At the moment, as
you will have seen in my evidence, people very strongly agree
that they are not listened to by their local authority. So there
is a lot of interest in what the scrutiny function is but people
at the moment have very little understanding of what is proposed.
326. Would you say the public who have been
polled are very interested in what the local authorities provide?
327. But less interested in how the local authority
A. Yes. As I have said here, the bottom line
is improvements in service delivery. If we hold public meetings
and ask people to come along without getting them there by various
means, you will not find massive attendances to discuss the committee
structure in local government. You will find many more people
turning up to discuss crime or transport or something which concerns
328. I want to press a little more into the
value of the quantitative research in your evidence and two or
three aspects of it, if I may. The first is, in your reply to
Sir Paul you mentioned it was primarily based on 1,000 people
in five metropolitan districts, would you therefore agree it has
very little relevance to the rest of the country?
A. I am just saying that is for the metropolitan
areas. There will be differences in county England but the debate
is centring on those metropolitan areas, which is, I imagine,
why we were asked to do it.
329. No, it was not, because the Bill would
apply to local government across the nation.
A. I appreciate that but we were talking about
mayors, which is an issue in metropolitan areas.
330. The debate is not about metropolitan areas
at all, but I suspect that your view of it may well be that is
the case, and it may well be your evidence is about metropolitan
areas. One of the things which this Committee has to consider
is whether or not there should be a different view taken on two-tier
local authorities, for example in counties, from metropolitan
authorities. You are saying that your evidence is primarily related
to the mets?
A. The poll we conducted primarily relates to
mayors but I have also referred to the ICM poll which you have
331. That is another matter. We are talking
about your evidence.
A. I referred to the ICM poll in my evidence
332. I am talking about quantitative research
which MORI carried out and what you are saying is that the primary
view you come to from that quantitative research primarily relates
to the mets?
A. But also the People's Panel which is 5,000
people across the whole of the UK and 55 per centand the
chart is in my evidence and it is across the whole of the UKsay
they support the idea of a directly elected mayor as a way of
having more say. I do not have the evidence in front of me to
say this but I suspect that is supported more strongly in some
metropolitan areas than in, say, bits of Cornwall, but basically
the bottom line is that it appears that it is popular, but there
is perhaps more work which needs to be done to unpick this.
333. Let us not talk about what you think, let
us stick to your evidence and the actual quantitative, statistical
analysis, the arithmetics and facts, not your views. I just call
your attention to paragraph 8 where you talk about the three models
and you say that the research was not statistically reliable.
A. Qualitative research is not designed to be
extrapolated from. What it does do is give us an understanding
of why people hold particular views. Actually we probably interviewed
about a hundred people on that and, if you really wanted to, you
could say it was accurate to 10 per cent, but I am not going to
advance that argument. What it is giving us is not hard data but
it is trying to give you an insight into the views of the public
particularly when they start to look at these issues in more detail.
334. How different do you think your results
would have been if you had offered the people you asked a fourth
option, namely to leave it as it is?
A. You would like me to give my opinion on that?
It is certainly the case that it partly depends how much information
we give people. It depends what the media is saying at the moment
because it is not a high salience issue and people will be swayed
by what the papers are saying. I imagine a fraction of people,
and we have 20 per cent in that poll in the mets who are opposed
to the idea and 15 per cent who do not know, but I still suspect
that if people had a gun put to their head and were shown the
Bill and had it explained to them ad infinitum they would
probably tend to choose the mayor. It may not be the most popular
335. so you said to people, "Would
you not like to be better represented?", to which they would
say yes, and you said, "In that case, which of these three
things would you like in order to do that" and you come up
with a statistical model which is not a very satisfactory one
of what the results are. Is it not a slightly devalued exercise?
A. You can see what the questions are, those
are people's honest answers to them. I am not pretending they
have a detailed understanding of the issue but I do think the
idea of a directly elected mayor is appealing to people. Admittedly
the work has concentrated on urban areas but I do think there
is something in it.
336. Can I ask you to undertake a little inference
as well as giving us your opinions? I believe, I know, MORI did
a lot of work at the time of the Local Government Review
A. We certainly did.
337. 31, 32 county-based polls?
A. Yes, and many individual districts.
338. Indeed. Also Hatter & Goschalk I believe
A. Brian Goschalk.
339. Yes.grossed those figures up and
did quite a lot of work as a result of surveys which were methodologically
pretty identical across the counties?