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The State of Local Government August 2009

An audit of local councillor opinion across England and Wales on the state of their councils in terms of financial stability, service provision and future prospects.

Date Published: 01 Sep 2009

Categories: Economy | Policy Makers | Politics | UK


The first-ever Audit of Local Government Survey, conducted by pollsters ComRes, paints a picture
of financial difficulty with expectations that the situation will only get worse in the short term.
The Audit is based on a survey of more than 500 councillors across England and Wales. Its most
striking finding is that more than three quarters – 76% – of councillors report that their council
does not have the financial resources it needs to deliver the local services that residents expect.
Just 24% said that their council has the resources it needs.
More than two-thirds, 68%, said that their council’s financial situation has worsened over the past
year, while almost the same proportion (67%) expect it will worsen during the next twelve months.
Only ten percent expect to see an improvement.
ComRes Chief Executive Andrew Hawkins said “These results are further proof that the recession
has had a big impact across all levels of government. Local government is being squeezed by the
unpleasant combination of worsening revenues and increased demand on council resources. It is
very tough indeed in town halls and some difficult decisions will doubtless have to be made in
The Audit also finds:
• Waste & recycling are regarded as the best performing service area, with roads/traffic the
• Education, social housing and waste/recycling are listed as the top three priorities for
increased investment; environmental health, consumer protection and cemeteries are the
lowest three
• The recession has led to the largest increases in demand for council tax/housing benefit,
social housing and council housing respectively; however demand for planning services has
decreased the most
• More encouragingly, more councillors feel their council will emerge stronger from the
recession than expect it to be weaker
• The Audit highlights the often tense relationship with central government: too much
interference was the most frequently cited failure and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, a massive
96% of councillors want central government to delegate more powers to local government.
• Worryingly, more than seven in ten councillors (71%) do not believe that their council is
sufficiently empowered ‘to provide the services that local people really want’
• The Audit also sheds light on the workload of councillors, and both the highlights and
lowlights of the role; the average councillor spends just over 18 hours per month on
committee work and 19 hours attending council meetings. London borough councillors
spend the least time on council meetings (14 hours per month) and county councillors the
most (24 hours per month)
• The most enjoyable parts of being a councillor are helping people or the community, as well
as getting things done and solving problems
• The least enjoyable parts of the job are dealing with the bureaucracy and some long,
unnecessary or unproductive meetings.
Andrew Hawkins, CEO of ComRes, said: “The research reveals a nation of councillors who work
long hours in a desire to get things done for their communities. The coming year will clearly be a
very tough one for local government, hit by a double-whammy of shrinking receipts and increased
demand for services. Housing appears to be the area of most serious concern.”
“The study will provide an annual benchmark of councillor sentiment, building up over time what
we hope will be an invaluable bank of data on the changing experiences and expectations across
local government in England and Wales.”
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 518 Councillors in England and Wales by online surveys
between 14th April and 31st May 2009. Data were weighted to be representative of all Councillors
in England and Wales by party and region. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council
and abides by its rules.
The full State of Local Government 2009 Report is available from [email protected] or 020
7340 9634.

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