Headlines: February 1st, 2013

Despite ministerial criticisms of local government inefficiency a new poll shows that Westminster is taking the blame for cuts in local services. Just over one in ten voters blames councils for cuts to local services, while three in ten hold the coalition responsible.

The new data, commissioned by localism think-tank NLGN from independent researchers Ipsos MORI, represents a vote of confidence in councils as voters overwhelmingly say they trust local authorities to make decisions about the future of local services. Eight in 10 say they trust their local council to make the important decisions, compared to just one in 10 who trust the government to. Eight per cent do not trust either.

The poll should embolden councils to drive forward innovative new approaches to service delivery to cope with unprecedented cuts in their Whitehall grants, with further spending reductions expected after the next election.

While most voters may not have yet noticed cuts to local services such as social care and refuse collection the research suggests that the cuts are starting to bite for some. Around two in three agree with the statement “I haven’t really noticed any changes to the services provided by my local council”, but one in three disagrees.

The poll also shows that 48% of voters agree with Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, that cuts to councils services have gone too far and could lead to social unrest. Voters who say they have already noticed changes to their local council services are even more likely to support this view.

Councils are currently heading into the third year of an unprecedented programme of spending reductions, with over 28% of their Whitehall grants being cut between 2011 and 2015, and more cuts expected after the election. The next year will see, among other policy changes, the localisation and cutting of council tax benefit, which is likely to hit many lower-income working-age families many of whom already appear to be feeling the pinch, according to the poll.

NLGN director Simon Parker said: “Councils might be surprised to learn that most voters are ignoring criticisms from Eric Pickles. Residents appear overwhelmingly to recognise that shrinking budgets are the result of national policy, not local profligacy. But the cuts are not going to go away, so councils must get on the front foot and speed up the development of new service offerings that can maintain quality for much less money.”