Memorandum by MORI
1. The White Paper highlights the way in
which the government seeks to make local government more accountable,
transparent and relevant to the public and seeks to address them
by offering revitalised mechanisms for political management in
2. Below we look at public reactions to
the proposed Models and other methods for boosting accountability,
based on MORI's research (for the New Local Government Network
in major metropolitan authorities, via the People's Panel, in
surveys for individual authorities and much more in-depth studies
of the views of smaller groups of citizens in Camden, and other
3. We have summarised public attitudes to
the proposed models for decision-making in local government below.
It is also crucial to consider the context in which public reactions
to the proposed changes sit and how they compare with public aspirations.
We have therefore briefly summarised public attitudes towards
local government and local councillors as background information
below (on page 10 onwards).
1. There is no doubt that the public wants
local government to change.
2. The evidence to date is that of the three
models - the option of a directly elected mayor - is the most
3. The surveys that have been conducted
in the Metropolitan areas by MORI and across the whole of GB by
ICM (both commissioned by the New Local Government Network which
is publicly campaigning for elected mayors) have shown that there
is majority support for the principle of directly-elected mayors,
and for referenda to be held to allow local people to decide on
whether or not to have a mayor.
4. However, beyond the headline figures,
the pictures is less clear. First the public know relatively little
about the proposals, and so while around 59 per cent in the Metropolitan
authorities surveyed by MORI say they are in favour (as did Lewisham's
own poll of its Panel, and the ICM survey), this is not a high
salience issue for the public and there are sizeable proportions
who do not feel able to answer either way.
5. On the Government's People's Panela
survey of over 3,000 residents across the UKwhen given
a list of different options to make local government more accountable,
elected mayors were least likely to be supported as a method of
having one's say on how services are run (although a majority
did support it); chosen ahead of it were the use of techniques
to ensure politicians did actually understand the views of local
peoplea theme in qualitative research MORI has conducted.
6. So public support for mayors in the polls
conducted to date reflects dissatisfaction with the current way
councils are perceived to work, and the popularity of the idea
of being able to directly elect a figurehead.
7. However, qualitative research conducted
by MORI for a variety of different authorities highlights a range
of concerns which the three modelswhile encouragingare
not seen so far to fully address. In particular they do not address
public concerns about getting local councillors to be "closer"
to the communities they represent, the consultation of the public
or the issue of latent dislike of party politics ata local level.
The bottom line is that the public is much more interested in
outcomes than in politicalstructures.
8. In the following pages we look at public
reactions to the various Models from day-long community workshops
that MORI has conducted for a variety of authorities. This research
is not statistically reliablenor is it intended to bewhat
it does do is throw some light on the thinking and priorities
of the public in relation to the proposed changes.
MODEL 1: DIRECTLY
1. The fact that the Mayor is not chosen
from within the council is seen as a key advantage of this system.
The principle of being able to directly choose an individual with
clear responsibilities is definitely popular with the public.
2. 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,
and therefore some feeling that this system might produce decisions
more in touch with local people. In addition, some feel that the
Mayor and individual cabinet members would be held accountable
to the public, and would therefore be more responsive to public
opinion than more anonymous committee members.
3. People think that having the opportunity
to vote for a directly elected Mayor would increase the turnout
in local government elections, although there is some concern
that, in the longer term, apathy could return, as the novelty
of voting under this system wears off.
4. One of the strongest features of having
a directly elected Mayor and Cabinet is seen as the speed with
which decisions could be made and policy could be implemented,
although this is not a key priority for the public.
1. While the idea of a strong, driven personality
running an area is popularand a mayor would be expected
to be charismaticthere is recognition, and in some cases,
concern, that the line between policy and personality may become
blurred. A directly elected Mayor must be a good communicator
who appeals to the electorate, but some are concerned that good
communication skills are matched by the ability and knowledge
to make key decisions across the authority. Some are worried that
being a Mayor might be as much about being a personality as someone
determined to improve key services.
2. There are some concerns that weak or
ineffective scrutiny functions (which the public have great difficulty
understandingor seeing as particularly effective) together
with a strong mayor may produce too many opportunities for career
politicians to take advantage of their position and surround themselves
with allies, and ignore concerns of the community as a whole.
3. 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.
4. One of the workshops expressed concern
about the perceived difficulty of removing the Mayor from office,
should he or she fall from favour.
5. At present, public perceptions of what
scrutiny committees are likely to be means they are perceived
as a potential disadvantage of all of the proposed models. Some
feel they will simply rubber stamp decisions presented almost
as a fait accompli, partly because it is perceived that by the
time they look at something, it will be too late to make any change.
6. Some feel that the Mayoral Model diminishes
the role that backbenchers and politicians from opposition parties
are currently perceived to play in the policy making process.
7. In London there are concerns over potential
clashes between the Mayor of London, and Mayors for each Borough,
as well as other elected representatives (eg MPs), although this
is not a major issue.
Evaluation Against Key Criteria
1. People are generally enthusiastic about
a directly elected Mayor, although there is a feeling that anyone
who is elected must work to a strong and popular mandate with
clear policy goals. Some participants in recent research suggest
some sort of independent adjudicator to ensure mayoral candidates
make clear pledges and are then seen to deliver themagain
highlighting lack of understanding of the scrutiny models that
are being proposedbut also a clear desire for much greater
2. If there are clearly publicised pledges
that the public can choose their mayor on, to this extent, people
see this model as one which could produce decisions more in touch
with local views. However, if this were not the case, people suggest
that the Mayor would soon lose popularity and legitimacy.
3. Out of the three proposed systems, this
model is perceived as the one which will do most to meet the key
criteria of making the decision making process more efficient
and effective, improving transparency and producing decisions
more attuned to local opinion.
4. However, this does not mean it is seen
as a universal panacea, and there remains concerns that "all
of these changes are irrelevant", because none of themin
the eyes of the publicgo far enough in truly making politicians
want to be more accountable or really listen to the public after
they are elected. In one workshop MORI conducted recently, distrust
of existing politicians is such that participants proposed that
"no-one who belongs to a political party should be allowed
to stand for mayor", while realising that this was unrealistic.
Such comments do reflect the more general concerns about party
politics in local government.
2: LEADER AND
1. The main perceived strength of this system
lies in the fact that as the Council has the ability to appoint
(and dismiss) the leader; it contains more checks and balances
than the mayoral Model. The Council's choosing the Leader is felt
to make it less likely that Leader would be a demagogue, looking
to score cheap points with the electorate. Rather, as the leader
would be chosen by his/her peers in the Council itself, proponents
think it more likely that he or she would be elected for his skills
both as a politician and as a policy maker. Some feel that someone
elected under this system would be less extreme.
2. For some its strength is that it is most
similar to the current system of the three Models (but for others
this is a key weakness: it does not go far enough, particularly
where feelings of council inertia are strong and where it is felt
that any change would be positive).
3. Although not directly elected, the accountability
of the leader to the Cabinet and Council is seen as a key strength
of this system.
1. Negatives about this Model are that it
is simply too similar to the status quo. Control is taken away
from the public, as a leader elected by the Council will be less
accountable to local people compared to an elected mayor, although
he/she might be less populist than a directly elected mayor, and
make more considered policy decisions.
2. For those concerned about over-centralisation
of power, as with the first Model, there is a feeling that too
much decision making power would be placed in the hands of too
few people. Lack of awareness of the scrutiny functionand
feelings it may be toothlesscompounds this.
3. People also raise the point that, as
a leader is not democratically elected by the general public,
then he is less likely to push "popular" policy through.
While this can be seen as a positive, such a leader might be more
likely to be regarded as impotent in that they will always be
held accountable to the Cabinet. People believe that this will
become more problematic if the Cabinet contains members from other
parties. This perceived weakness leads to the view that this model
will fail to produce more efficient and effective decision making.
4. For some, in an authority where one party
has a large majority, it was seen to be important that representation
of other parties in the Cabinet is ensured, particularly if the
minority parties represent different geographic areas to the majority
Evaluation Against Key Criteria
1. The leader lacks the direct mandate a
mayor has for an area. In one workshop in London that MORI conducted
there was also interest in being able to directly elect cabinet
Members, either simultaneously or at a later election (if a Mayor
was involved). This reflects public interest in being able to
have a real choice of not just the mayor, but other key players,
even if somewhat reluctantly, they realise this would be impractical.
2. There is relatively little support for
this model when assessed against transparency of decision making
and producing decisions more in touch with local views.
3. Few feel that this model would allow
decisions to be made more efficiently and effectively than the
elected Mayor and Cabinet system. People associate this model
with a less powerful leader, which may lead to the potential for
gridlock in the decision making process.
4. As with the other models, many want much
more clarity about the role of the scrutiny function and arrangements
for involving the public.
5. It is not thought that this system would
lead to increased voter turn-out at election time or greater involvement
at grass-roots level, without radical changes in the behaviour
and attitudes of individual Members (although this is wanted regardless
of the arrangements made for decision making at an authority).
3: DIRECTLY ELECTED
1. The only real strength that residents
see in this system is its simplicity, which is thought would translate
into effective and speedy decision making.
1. The public feel that this model tends
to concentrate power too heavily, and the public's own choicethe
mayoris seen by many as too weak relative to the council
manager, who is seen to be too powerful.
2. Neither are seen as being particularly
accountable to the electorate, especially the council manager,
who some see as being very powerful, but the least accountable
of all the figures in the proposed models. And some wonder why
one needs a mayor at all in this modelfeeling that one
decision-maker is enough.
3. This system is seen to widen the gap
between the executive and backbench councillors. The public are
concerned that the role of scrutiny panels will be limited and
provide an insufficient counter-balance to the powers of the Mayor
and Council Manager.
Evaluation Against Key Criteria
1. There is very little enthusiasm for this
final model. The main problem is the perceived lack of accountability
to the general public, the over-centralisation of power and information,
and lack of understanding as to what the scrutiny function might
2. On the key criteria of more efficient
and effective decision making, transparency of the process, producing
decisions more in touch with local views and increasing public
involvement, this model receives very little support.
1. Of the three systems MORI has assessed,
an elected Mayor and Cabinet areon balancefelt to
be the most likely to meet the key criteria of more efficient
and effective decision making and more transparency in the decision
2. However, while this model is most appealingon
the basis of MORI's research to datenone of the modelsincluding
this one, are seen as particularly likely to lead to decisions
that are in touch with local views, or as importantly to meet
other important criteria for the public, including ensuring that
local government listens and communicates with them more effectively,
and involves them more in decision-making.
3. After examining the models, people return
to two concerns; these are that rigorous scrutiny can be applied
to all decisions, and, crucially, that the quality of Council
services improves as a result of any changes to the decision making
process. There is uncertainty as to whether this will be achieved
in practise, but many see change as promising.
4. At the same time many people are keen
to see a diminished role for "professional" "party"
politics in local government. They wantperhaps idealisticallyto
encourage people to judge candidates on their merits, rather than
their party. The mayoral model offers some promise of this but
not enough to be entirely convincing.
5. Reflecting the fact that the public reluctantly
recognise that local government is now so complicated that full
time "professional" councillors are needed, some participants
suggest the idea of a two-tier system of local government in which
there would be room for "professional" cabinet politicians,
who would be more political, to operate at the centre of the Council
and to make policy decisions. Alongside these would be a wider
range (and possibly even increased number) of backbenchers who
are more representative of the community, but are only expected
to contribute four to five hours a week, to allow parents and
people with demanding jobs to be more widely represented.
6. There is interest in the idea of randomly
selecting members of the public to serve on particular Scrutiny
Committees for six months or so to ensure independent views are
7. Most strongly, people would like to see
an improved representative role for backbench Councillors which
would allow them to spend more time listening to and representing
the local community. They want to see Members in the community,
listening to residents, and living in the wards they are elected
for. They recognise this is a sometimes thankless task but they
want to be able to feel that their wards are really represented
by identifiable people who have a deep understanding of local
issues and realities. At present the publiceven after discussing
the proposed Models for hoursare not convinced that the
Scrutiny role for backbenchers envisaged guarantees this, or that
it will give them the type of councillors they want.
1. Compared to many other public services,
local governmentdespite being electedis not particularly
well regarded. It tends to be seen as remote (in the personal,
not geographic sense). Even authorities which perform relatively
well in terms of their service delivery are regarded much more
weakly as corporate entities, and as "a law unto themselves"
to quote one participant in a MORI community workshop recently.
2. The chart below shows how highly regarded
some services like refuse collection and libraries are: the one
below shows how different types of authorities are regarded.
3. Compare this with the chart looking at
how individual authorities themselves are regarded; scores are
much lower than services.
4. In particular authorities are poor at
listening to residents and weak communicatorstheir position
on this chart is similar to the Inland Revenue's, despite being
elected, and providing a range of essential services to the public.
5. Nevertheless, there is also plenty of
evidence that local government's collective performance is improving.
Although there is still considerable scope for further improvement,
there has been real progress over the last decade. The chart below
shows aggregate results from over 200 surveys for individual authorities
MORI has conducted in the last decade.
6. Although more people agree their authority
is too remote and impersonal than disagree, fewer do so than in
the late 1980s. And while most authorities are poor at communicating
with the publictelling them about services, explaining
what they are doing and how decisions are madeon this,
as on many aspects, there have been improvements and a key feature
is diversity, with wildly different performances across local
7. As well as needing to improve its communicationsand
doing so will increase overall satisfaction with local governmentmost
of the public feel that local government does not listen to them
enoughor that if it does listen, more often than not it
ignores what it hears. The chart below, from MORI's survey of
nearly 2,500 residents in the Best Value pilots, conducted as
part of the Warwick/DETR evaluation of the pilots shows this clearly.
Views of local Councillors
1. MORI's work for over 200 local authorities
since 1979 has highlighted how little people know about the existing
structures of local government, or their councillors. As everyone
knows, most people do not vote in local elections. Even fewer
are aware of who their councillors are (MORI typically finds under
10 per cent know who they are). Asked what councillors do, many
admit they have little idea, but tend to assume that they spend
a good deal of time in meetings. Those few members of the public
who have attended council meetings as observers are often dismayed
by the level of debateor indeed the lack of debate.
2. Top of mind impressions of councillors
are negativeof party politicians, who tend to be self-aggrandising,
who spend all their time in the town hall, who do not know the
realities of living in the areas they represent, and are out of
touch. Many feel that they do not consult before making decisionsas
we have seen the key role many want for local councillors is for
them to listen more, rather than attending committee meetings.
Below are some typical results when asked about the job of being
an elected councillor.
3. At present most do not feel that councillors
are out in the community listening to them. A typical gut reaction
is to describe them as "smarmy gits in suits". Very
often these perceptions are based on media stereotypes, rather
than detailed knowledge. Local government is not seen as interesting
or relevant for those who do not need services to spend much time
talking to it: those who are most satisfied with their council
are those who never contact it.
4. However, those who have a better understanding
of the demands placed on councillors' timeand the workload
involvedrecognise that this in itself limits the number
of people able to get involved; people with young children or
demanding jobs are seen as completely unable to do what would
be demanded of themand because of this only certain types
of peopleparticularly those who are very "party political"
will either be able or willing to get involved.
5. This leads on to another key aspect of
the image of local councillorsand that is that they are
"too political". Many qualitative studies MORI conducts
looking at these issues highlight this as a key reason for feeling
alienated from local government. There is a feeling that party
politics at a local leveltogether with party discipline,
whipping and so forth, meaning that councillors often vote on
party lines, rather than in the best interests of their own wards.
6. There is also some feeling that national
government has such a firm grip on local government that whoever
is elected has little power to change services and outcomes locallyanother
reason for not voting or getting involved with local councils;
see the chart below from a MORI survey for the LGA in April 1998;
7. It is also worth remembering that while
local government does need to make much more of an effort to get
"in touch with the people", most people do not actually
seek a particularly intimate relationship with their council.
They want it to listen to them, to be efficient and professional,
and tell them about the services it provides, but only a minority
want to be more involved with it. The results from Leicester below
are typical of the result MORI finds across Britain.
29 June 1999