Examination of Witness (Questions 380
THURSDAY 1 JULY 1999
380. Two points. Your diagnosis via MORI produces
a figure of just over 50 per cent in favour of a mayor.
A. The one large-scale poll where MORI has directly
asked the question it actually averaged 66 per cent.
381. Professor Stoker told us it was two-thirds.
A. It is exactly the same.
382. It is not exactly
A. Two thirds or 66.66 per cent then.
383. You explained that you have not polled
in detail in large county areas with districts.
A. I do think there is more work to be done
in that area to really get a detailed understanding.
384. So a lot of this is very urban orientated
A. I guess so. I am not going to represent other
people's opinion polls because I do not work for ICM, but there
is that poll which you should have a look at. I am sure that will
give you other information.
Lord Bassam of Brighton
385. I wonder whether you have done any research
work on testing whether or not the public are concerned about
democratic legitimacy. What drives the modernisation agenda in
part is this feeling that the Government and many of us in local
government have which is that because of poor turnouts local government
is losing the plot a bit and losing its relationship with the
public. I wonder whether there is any resonance amongst the public
themselves as to the question of legitimacy and whether local
government is worth being there?
A. Local government is not the most exciting
subject in the world and people often cannot see why they should
bother voting. I have shown the survey that we did for the LGA
where we asked people to describe their attitudes to voting in
local elections, i.e. "It does not seem to make much difference
to services round here and whoever wins." There are concerns
about that. It is a question of what the solution is to getting
the public to feel they are listening to them, but it is also
about being able to do something when they do listen.
386. Is there any research that opens up that
area, the question of legitimacy? In Europe, in particular, there
does seem to be greater enthusiasm for local government as expressed
in turnout. Do you have any thoughts on that?
A. They have gone for PR. I personally think
that if you are interested in turnout locally probably PR would
be effective in encouraging people to vote. What is the point
of voting if you are a Conservative in Newham? Have Conservatives
ever been elected in Newham? I do not know.
387. In the European elections they used PR
and the turnout was the worst ever.
A. That is another issue. There are issues about
Europe and there are other issues. If you look at Italy, there
they have 80 per cent turnout. They have probably had 80 elections
since the war.
Sir Paul Beresford
388. Politics is like sport in Italy.
A. I am not suggesting it is a good thing.
Mr Gray: On what evidence do you base the assumption
that if we had PR that would improve turnouts?
Lord Bassam of Brighton
389. Is there any substantial evidence that
says the first past the post is more or less
A. I think I would refer to Colin Rawlings and
Thrasher on this one in Plymouth who know infinitely more about
this than me. What I would say from an analysis of looking at
by-elections is that their analysis, as far as I understand it,
is that the key driver is marginality. It is a very closely fought
contest. Everybody is out there knocking on the doors and your
vote is likely to swing the difference between candidate X and
candidate A. That is what is going to get you out there to vote.
390. So it is the first past the post.
391. Can I ask you whether within this polling
you have actually used what is called a lickert scale, which is
doing degrees of warmness or coldness towards the question that
is asked and, if you did, have you grossed these up to give you
a general satisfaction and dissatisfaction index? Is there actually
a sub-text underneath this about whether people are genuinely
not very interested
A. What are we talking about, local government
392. In your quantitative research generally.
A. We always use lickert scales when we are
asking people about how well informed they are about the authority
or how satisfied with this they are or the extent to which they
agree or disagree.
393. So you have actually done a simplification
of that, have you?
A. We are just showing you gross figures for
support and oppose or agree and disagree or satisfied and dissatisfied.
394. Do you weight those in terms of your response
A. You could create an index, and we sometimes
do, so that if you say you are very satisfied we will give you
a score of two and if you are fairly satisfied we will give you
a score of one and create some means.
395. If people are as generally disinterested
or unimpressed by local government as is suggested then you would
expect a large number of people to be just about the neutral level.
A. They are fairly satisfied. If you want to
talk about the use of different scales, Bob Worcester has written
numerous papers saying that the lichard scale we use and the values
we use are the most effective in getting a proper distribution
across the range.
396. I am sure he will have done.
A. If you look at how people feel about their
council, yes, you are right, they are in the fairly satisfied
group and the fairly dissatisfied. It is not something that people
get excited about.
397. And that general picture is borne out by
that sub-class, is it?
398. I know MORI has also been a leader in this.
You have an effect in an election whereby if you poll subsequent
to an election more people claim to have voted for the winning
side than is actually the case in the election.
A. That is absolutely true.
399. And I believe MORI has corrected for that.
A. If you ring people back the week after the
election and particularly years after the election you would find
that the result was completely different to what happened. Similarly,
if you look at how many people say they vote in local elections,
you often find that, for example, in Birmingham 70 per cent of
the public reckon they voted in the local election.
400. Taking that as a background, to what extent
would you consider that those views of councils may have been
influenced, for example, by what the local press is saying? What
is the general view? Certainly some of the research that has been
carried out for local authorities indicates that there is a problem
moving the tank around, that there are long held public views
about local authorities and even when a local authority is performing
well, if there is a background view that they are all a load of
rubbish that is very persistent.
A. The public has stereotypes of local government
which are outdated and they are not aware of the pace of change
in local authorities. If we look at the reputation of local government
as corporate entities, as I pointed out here, it is well below
some of the services delivered. There are some services that some
local authorities deliver where 95 per cent of the public are
satisfied with it and there are many private sector providers
who would be delighted to have that type of score. Yes, when they
think about councils all sorts of negative images are summoned
up and the media can in some areas reinforce that and it does
become more difficult, but at the same time they are judging things
on very basic service delivery. So it is not just based on media
perception, it is also based on are the streets clean, are the
bins emptied on time, do the lights work, how are my children
being educated etc.
401. Could you summarise that by saying what
councils do people are reasonably satisfied with?
A. I think that is not unfair. I would qualify
that by saying some services that councils provide people are
very satisfied with. Some services the council provide people
are very dissatisfied with. Pavement maintenance is the worst
rated service in this country bar none. The amount of money needed
to be spent to get it to a level when people would be satisfied;
I expect would probably be equivalent to the national debt.
402. Is it possible for you to let us have the
raw data? I do not mean bits of papers that you have filled in
A. Tables and that sort of thing?
403. Yes, particularly on the attitude to the
mayor and on the attitude to the executives, the things that you
think are most relevant to the options in the White Paper.
A. Okay. I would be happy to do that.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Thank
you very much for coming and answering our questions.