Keeping citizens informed about the performance of their council is progressing from an accountability requirement towards creating a lever to raise efficiency and effectiveness. Research commissioned by Communities and Local Government showed wide variation in practice, cultural barriers and little enthusiasm to promote timely and meaningful publicity.
Citizens responding to a survey expressed a strong sense that the improvement of performance information would lead to greater participation in local democracy which may also be reflected in election turnouts. A majority of respondents also believed that reporting would lead to better performance by the council.
In some case study areas the reporting process was highly politicised with elected members and political manifestos playing a key role in deciding what information should be reported. In other authorities evidence was used to a greater extent to identify those areas that were of most interest to citizens. About half of the respondents placed little trust in local authorities and there was a feeling that positive performance information is publicised heavily as opposed to negative performance information.
Currently council performance is judged mainly on personal experiences with services and local opinions rather than performance information. Services which councils were judged on mostly included waste management, street cleaning, road maintenance, transport systems, street lighting and recycling. Whilst the majority of councils are reporting corporate performance information in some form, this tends to be in formats that are relatively indigestible to citizens.
Respondents wanted performance information about council expenditure, local services and community based facilities, education, progress on key targets, regeneration initiatives and community safety. There was a strong feeling that this information should be provided on an area or neighbourhood basis.
The report is available from DCLG. http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/35.pdf