Headlines: July 1st, 2004

People generally are less satisfied with the services they get from local government than they were three years ago – but the problem may be that councils need to be better at communicating what they do. Those are the conclusions of the latest Customer Satisfaction Surveys, which are carried out every three years by local government as part of the collection of information on performance indicators.The surveys focus on a number of themes including local transport, environment, waste and cultural services. The Office of the Deputy prime Minister says the latest data – compiled from more than half a million survey responses – indicates that, compared to the previous figures the level of satisfaction in services has declined by 10 per cent. Further analysis of the survey shows, however, that information provision by councils is linked to satisfaction and the problem may lie in local authorities’ communications with their residents.

That idea is supported by the fact that people who actually use council services continue to be by far the most satisfied. A study of the results shows that the fall in satisfaction levels represents a drift from people who say they are ‘satisfied’ to those who feel ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’. This, the study says, is highlighted by the fact that the majority of respondents think the way their local authority runs things has stayed the same in the last three years.

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said most local authorities were providing a good service to their customers but the survey highlighted the need for them to provide better information and increase awareness of the services on offer. Councils also had to step up their work in attracting new customers and changing outdated perceptions of what they do.

Commenting on the results the Local Government Association said services such as libraries and recycling were holding their own despite shortfalls in government funding but the public, understandably, expected more because of recent council tax rises. It said the results showed roughly equal measures of improvement and decline across the 11 areas examined, all of them showing shifts of less than five per cent either way. The exceptions were in parks and open spaces, where satisfaction levels have risen by eight per cent, and museums and galleries, where there has been a seven per cent fall.

The LGA says the overall drop in satisfaction, leaving 55 per cent of people, satisfied with their council was not surprising given that in the period since the previous survey council tax had risen by 30 per cent.