Examination of Witness (Questions 340
THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999
340. Did you find any enormous variation in
general views about local government at that particular time between
the more urban areas and the less urban areas in that very large
piece of research?
A. I think the answer is yes but I have not
got it in front of me.
341. Is it possible to supply the Committee
with that information?
A. Absolutely. It is all in the public domain,
we are happy to do that. People do feel very differently. The
key thing about local government, and what the legislation has
to reflect, is its diversity. I do not think universally imposing
directly elected mayors, as some suggest, across the whole of
local government would be popular. It does have to reflect the
342. Did you do qualitative research at that
A. Yes, all the time. Very often before we conduct
quantitative research into an issue, we would conduct qualitative
research to make sure we are asking the questions which are pertinent,
particularly a detailed piece of work for a local authority, and
to understand how people see the issues and to make sure we are
asking the questions which accurately reflect the concerns of
the public rather than the concerns perhaps of politicians and
343. So you piloted your quantitative questions
on a qualitative basis?
A. Yes. To get a detailed understanding of how
people perceive local government and what an effective and affected
community it is, we conducted a great deal of qualitative research
at that time.
344. On the basis of the qualitative research
you carried out in your paper here, there seems to be an interesting
difference in public perception than in some of the discussions
we have had in this Committee, and that is that the public appear
to believeor those people you have talked tothat
the mayor will have a mandate and be able and responsible for
carrying it through but perhaps needs some restraint in doing
A. That is not an unfair generalisation.
345. I am referring to paragraph 3 on page 3,
under Perceived Weaknesses. "Because of this while the Mayoral
model is the most popular there are concerns that too much power
may be centralised in the hands of the Mayor. With this in mind,
residents suggest that sufficient checks on the Mayor's power
should be built into the system." Then in paragraph 2, higher
up the page, "There is a general feeling that, as he or she
is elected by the public, then the Mayor will be responsible for
carrying through the mandate on which they have been elected."
A. Yes. That is what people want to see. They
want to see somebody who stands on very clear pledges and then
hopes they deliver them. In one of the community workshops we
conductedand these are members of the public who have a
more detailed understanding of thisthey suggest there should
be an independent adjudicator to make sure that the mayor delivers
what they promised.
346. Taking paragraph 3 under Perceived Weaknesses,
what sort of constraints did you get a feeling for?
A. What you are looking at is knowing what they
do not want, I suppose, the idea of somebody who is elected as
mayor, chooses all his friends in the cabinet and then rides roughshod
over perhaps opposition parties and due debate and diligence.
They do not obviously have a detailed understanding of the structure
of local government or how the scrutiny functions work, but what
they are concerned about is that the scrutiny function comes to
look at decisions that the executive has made after a very long
interval and perhaps also if the scrutiny people are of the same
party or even close associates of the mayor; they want an effective
Sir Paul Beresford
347. Would you agree, particularly in the metropolitan
areas, local government has a very hard role? It is dealing with
some extremely difficult problems and the perception of the public
of local government in general, because things do not always go
right and because the problems are so difficult, is probably even
less than that of a second-hand car salesman?
348. Let's be reasonable about it. So it would
come as no surprise to learn that local government in each of
the 205 metropolitan areas is the biggest group for complaints.
What I am getting at is, do you not feel, as you have put out
on page 1 under item 1 under Qualitative Research, that what the
public really wants is local government to improve, or improve
their environment, rather than necessarily change, or if they
want them to change it is a change for the improvement?
A. I do not have any problem with that whatsoever.
What the public is asking for is an improvement in services and
I think I put a quote in there somewhere that actually all these
changes we are discussing are largely irrelevant.
349. So if you offer them Richard Branson to
run their local council, it would be a gem of an idea and they
would rush in to have this figurehead without a thought of the
reality of actually finding a Richard Branson?
A. That idea is superficially popular but when
people look at it in a bit more depth, they do wonder. If you
use the example of somebody like Anneka Rice, a bubbly, popular,
TV personality, who might come and run your council, some people
are concerned that people like that might stand for mayor who
would not be able to deliver when they were elected. They do passionately
want to see service improvements. There are some people who have
said in the qualitative research we have been conducting, "This
is all fine and dandy, but none of this actually addresses my
350. The next obvious turn to that is that if
there was a fourth option, which is improvements in the nature
of the services or the nature of the way in which local government
is now run, that is what they would want?
A. In one of the workshops we have conducted,
the broad conclusion they came to was that actually none of the
models proposed was going to be effective in making things more
transparent or accountable. In one of the workshops we conducted,
yes, they felt the current system could work perfectly well if
the people inside it were more of the sort of people they would
like to have as councillors and the authority was more efficient.
351. One of the polls which has always fascinated
me was a poll in New Zealand conducted nationally by the Government
on proportional representation. The public when I was out there
at that time had a perception of the result which they did not
get, and there was a huge swing towards it. If you go and poll
there now, there is a perceived view against it. If you ask people,
the response is, "We did not understand what we were going
to get." Could you apply this to some of this research?
A. Until people see how it plays out on the
ground, it is very difficult to answer some of these issues.
Sir Paul Beresford: So, yes.
352. Going back to this question of the mayor,
you said the mayor was popular now but what we are now talking
of within the Bill is a totally different person, is it not?
A. The idea of being able to directly elect
a figure with considerable authority who is clearly accountable
and stands or falls on whether or not they deliver, despite the
problems which I think we must discuss, is probably popular.
353. Yes I accept it may be but are the public
understanding that it may not be doing exactly what the mayor
does at the present time?
A. They can appreciate under this model that
there are far more executive powers invested in the mayor than
there are currently in the person with the gold chain.
Mr Pike: If the mayor is not able to deliver
what we are expecting him to deliver, if we look at the election
of a mayor for London and we had the referendum on the mayor of
London and great play was put on transport, everybody who works
or lives in London knows that the problem with London Transport
has been lack of investment for many, many years and it is going
to need investment for a long, long time. So when that mayor comes
up for re-election are they going to be very happy? Are they going
to give a different answer on your opinion poll survey at that
time as to whether that is the best way of running local government?
It is a serious question.
354. You do not have to answer every question.
A. If I had the power of prescience I probably
would not be sitting here today. We will have to wait and see.
It may be that we cannot pour millions or billions into London
Transport but there may be other things the mayor does that would
be extremely popular.
355. But the mayor of Lewisham may have to close
the swimming baths.
A. Let's take this mythical mayor of Lewisham,
provided the mythical mayor of Lewisham is good at explaining
why he is closing the swimming baths and provides something else,
I would not necessarily rule out him being re-elected.
356. What is your view on referendums?
A. People generally like referendums because
they like to have a say but whether they turn out and vote is
357. Do you think there is a danger if we have
a referendum and more consultation that we get consultation fatigue?
Is there fatigue from answering opinion polls and things?
A. Perhaps about frivolous subjects such as
baked beans, but the serious matters of local government, if we
look at what people want their local authority to do they want
them to listen to them. If we ask them how they would like them
to listen to them they say, amongst other things, opinion polls
and, secondly, if you actually look at an authority that does
a lot opinion polling and perhaps has 200,000 residents it is
going to take a long time to ask them all what they think about
the council. So I do not think that is the case although there
are certain small areas of the councils where there is perhaps
lots of work going on in education action zones, employment action
zones and SRB projects where there is a danger of that if it is
not well coordinated, but it is generally not an issue.
358. On the draft Bill in the White Paper how
would you improve it if you were the Minister taking that Bill?
What do you think it falls down on or is it right?
A. I think some of the things that people want
addressedand none of you have asked me so far about people's
views about politicians which is one of the key concerns of residents.
These are phrases used to describe councillors "Totally remote",
"greedy", "too party political", "they
have their own agenda", "all they want is your vote
and then they disappear", "the council is pretty invisible".
People want people who passionately believe in the areas they
represent, are in touch with the areas they represent and at the
moment there is some feeling that party politics at a local level
does not do that and, if anything, can be antithetical to it.
359. You have given that interpretation of politicians
and I am not arguing with you about that. How much do you think
the response to your question on the mayor is that people actually
have a different view about the mayor? Not that they do not understand
the change but they perceive a mayor as essentially non-political,
representational and associated with good things and they see
political leadership associated with all the things that they
disagree with? As one who has moved from one position to the other,
I do understand the difference, but I am concerned about how much
it reflects in that.
A. I think there is some hope. They are not
going to want somebody who they see as a "party hack "but
you can be a popular politician or a grey-suited anonymous politician.
There is a feeling there that perhaps a broader range of people
and not the sort of people who are currently councillors, more
dynamic people as they see it, might stand.