We have a new website go to gov.scot

Baseline Study of Public Knowledge and Perceptions of Local Government in Scotland - Research Findings

DescriptionSets out the key information from a nationally representative sample survey of public knowledge and perceptions of local government, undertaken in the Autumn of 1994.
ISBN0 7480 2926 5
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
Environment Research Programme Research Findings No. 9 (1995)
Baseline Study of Public Knowledge and Perceptions of Local Government in Scotland

The MVA Consultancy

ISBN 0-7480-2926-5Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
A survey of public knowledge and perceptions of local government was undertaken in the Autumn of 1994. Its purpose was to provide baseline information prior to the reorganisation of local government in 1996. A nationally representative sample of 1,501 individuals participated in the survey and this bulletin sets out the key information obtained from the interviews. The survey was undertaken by The MVA Consultancy.
Main findings
  • Most people identify with local areas which are smaller than the current administrative areas. Fifteen per cent identified with a geographical area similar to their district council area and eight per cent with an area larger than that.
  • Sixty six per cent of respondents could name their regional council correctly and 63% their district council. Fifty four per cent could say where their regional council headquarters was and 63% their district council headquarters.
  • Knowledge of service providers was low and there was confusion between district and regional councils and between councils and other service providers.
  • Satisfaction with council services was expressed by 80% of respondents.
  • Nearly half (45%) of respondents knew of council offices other than the headquarters. Forty nine per cent had contacted a council office at least once in the past year. Of these contacts, 38% were by personal visit, 53% by telephone and 8% by letter.
  • Twenty six per cent said they knew a councillor personally and 11% had approached one in the last year.
  • Half of respondents said there were specific issues or problems affecting their local area. Seventy nine per cent of those said the issues were the council's responsibility and that they were aware of the issues. Only 18% said they were doing something about it.
  • Forty five per cent said the council was doing something good in their area.
  • The standard of service provision was thought by 53% of respondents to be the same in their area as elsewhere, 16% said that it wasn't and 30% didn't know.
  • Issues of rurality and remoteness were not very significant determinants of knowledge or perception.
Identification and Awareness of Councils and Services
Respondents were asked firstly to name their local area and then asked if they identified with that area. Eighty eight per cent said they identified with the area they first named. The longer respondents had lived in an area, the more likely they were to identify with it. Most respondents named small local areas. They were asked about identification with a larger area than the local area they first named. However, most still named small areas.
Nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents identified an area smaller than a district in both of their answers. For 15% either the larger or the smaller of the areas identified approximated to a district. With 8% of respondents the larger area identified was larger than a district and the smaller area was not a district. The remaining 2% did not identify with a local area.
Sixty six per cent of respondents could name their regional council correctly and 69% their district council. Fifty seven per cent could name both. Fifty four per cent were able to say where their regional council headquarters were and 63% their district council headquarters. Forty three per cent could locate both.
Eight per cent of respondents worked for a council, a further 10% had done so in the past and 9% had a close family or household member working for a council. These groups were most likely to be able to name their councils.
Respondents were asked why they thought there were two councils. Sixty per cent did not know. Those who responded were most likely to refer to different responsibilities or areas to cover. Others made political or legal references. About 5% referred to unnecessary and duplicative expenditure and a few referred to the old single tier system.
In answer to a question about who were the providers of services in the local area, 37% of respondents identified the regional council, 44% the district council and 27% an unspecified council.
Figure 1 Identification and Awareness of Councils and Services
Boosted sample
They were then asked to name services provided by each council. Very many services were named, quite often incorrectly. For regions, roads had most mentions (393), followed by education (314), water and sewerage (144), police (139), street lighting (123), housing (115), social work (114), refuse collection (94), hospitals (91) and parks/recreation (85). Refuse collection was most mentioned for districts (488), followed by housing (470), street cleaning (269), parks/recreation (259), roads (176), street lighting (167) and libraries (122).
Figure 2 Boosted sample
Boosted sample
Twenty four per cent of respondents could not name a regional council service and 18% a district council service. Of the services named, 71% were correct for regions and 73% for districts.
Respondents were also asked who provided specific services. As shown in Table 1 public knowledge of particular service providers is low.
Table 1
Identification of Service Providers

Don't
know

Regional
Council

District
Council

Council
could not
specify

Central
Govnment

Quango

Hospital
Trust

Total

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Schools

10

62

14

11

2

1

100
Libraries

12

27

49

11

1

100
Hospitals

18

40

10

6

5

16

5

100
Street cleaning

5

11

77

6

1

100
Police

18

60

11

7

3

2

100
Cemeteries

23

18

50

8

1

100
Unemployment benefit

20

25

19

11

23

1

100
Home helps

15

33

39

10

3

1

100
Roads maintenance

8

53

31

7

100
Tourism

27

32

23

10

1

7

100
Prisons

28

36

9

8

16

3

100
Gas supply

21

17

10

7

1

43

100
Parks etc

7

20

60

12

1

100
Core sample
Figures in bold show correctly identified provider
3
Access to councils and councillors
Respondents were asked if there was anywhere other than council headquarters where they could make enquiries or complain. Forty five per cent said there was, 33% said there was not and 21% did not know. Sixty one per cent of those who rented from the council knew another office compared with 40% of owner occupiers and 31% of other renters. When asked the services provided by these offices, housing was mentioned most often.
The average estimated distances to these offices are shown in Figure 1. The road travel times to district and regional headquarters are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1
Average distance to council offices by urban/rural
Forty nine per cent of respondents had contacted a council office at least once in the last year. Those who rented from the council made the most contacts. Seventy five per cent of those who had contacted a council in the last year had contacted a district council, 17% had contacted a regional council and 8% could not say which council they had contacted. Thirty eight per cent of contacts were by personal visit, 53% by telephone and 8% by letter. Those living in rural areas were least likely to make contact in person and most likely to telephone.
Figure 2
Road travel time to district or regional headquarters
Thirteen per cent had considered contacting a council in the last year, but had not done so. Most often (66%), this was concerned with district council matters. Twenty five per cent said they had not pursued the matter because the council wouldn't do anything. Eleven per cent "didn't want to make a fuss". There was a varied list of other reasons.
Twenty six per cent of respondents in the core sample said they knew a councillor personally; those living in rural areas were most likely to know a councillor. Fifty per cent knew a district councillor, 11% a regional councillor and the status of 39% was not known.
Sixteen per cent had ever approached a councillor about a council matter and 11% had done so in the last year. Most (53%) of contacts had been face-to-face with only 9% being by letter and 27% by telephone. Nine per cent had considered contacting a councillor but had not done so.
Satisfaction with services
To gauge general levels of satisfaction with council services, respondents were asked about a small number of individual services and about service delivery overall. Overall, satisfaction with region and district council services was high. For individual services, however, satisfaction varied.
For both regions and districts, 80% of respondents thought that the councils were making a good job of delivering services, as shown in Table 2 below.
Table 2
Satisfaction with council services overall
total

Very
good

good

neither

bad

very
bad

don't
know

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Regional council

10

70

10

6

*

3

100

District council

13

67

12

5

*

2

100

*Less than 0.5% but greater than 0.
Core sample
The individual services were selected because people were expected to have a relatively high level of awareness of them. Levels of satisfaction varied extensively between these services ranging from 91% for refuse collection to 42% for road and pavement maintenance. Satisfaction was over 70% for 5 of the services covered but was much lower for housing and road and pavement maintenance, as shown in Table 3 below.
Table 3
Satisfaction with individual services
Services

Very satisfied
%

Satisfied
%

Neithe
%r

Dissatisfied
%

Very dissatisfied
%

Total
%

N

District
Council housing

8

50

15

8

9

100

648

Street cleaning

18

61

10

9

3

100

987

Parks

20

60

9

8

3

100

972

Refuse collection

22

69

4

4

1

100

989

Region
Road & pavement maintenance

3

39

13

32

13

100

994

Schools

12

68

10

8

2

100

651

Social work

18

56

18

7

2

100

434

Core sample
Local Area Issues and Rurality/Remoteness
Rurality and remoteness were not very significant determinants of knowledge or perceptions of local government in Scotland, although they came through in some practical ways eg people in rural areas were more likely to telephone, rather than visit, a council.
Respondents were asked if there were any specific issues or problems which affected the area in which they lived. Fifty per cent said there were. This was unaffected by rurality or remoteness.
Fifty one per cent of those who identified problems said these related to services provided by the district, 43% identified problems related to services provided by the region, 32% identified crime and 6% identified unemployment.
Table 4 shows that those in the more rural areas were less likely to identify problems related to crime. They were also less likely to refer to district council services than those in more urban areas and more likely to refer to regional council services. Distance to headquarters did not affect the distribution of problems affecting the local area. This was therefore a function of rurality rather than remoteness.
Table 4
Local issues and problems by urban/rural
Issue
Related to

City >
140,000
%

Large
Town
30,000-140,000
%

Small
town
3,000 - 30,000
%

Village
& rural
%

Total
%

Regional Service

36

45

44

69

48

District service

50

55

47

38

48

Crime

46

22

27

11

28

Joint service1

6

8

12

14

10

Unemployment

2

4

14

7

7

Central Government

1

1

5

2

2

Lack of resources

1

1

1

1

1

Other

1

*

2

1

1

N=

223

157

194

179

753

1eg planning services, aspects of which are provided by both District and Regional Councils

*Less than 0.5% but greater than 0.
Boosted sample

For 79% of the issues identified, the respondents said they were the council's responsibility and that they were aware of the issues. However, only 18% in the core sample said the council were doing something about it. This was because of lack of resources (29%), ignoring local issues (21%), inertia (13%), concentrating on another area (8%) and geographical remoteness (3%). A further 3% said the council was trying to alleviate the problem and 22% didn't know.
Respondents were asked if the council was doing any good things in the area. Forty five per cent said it was, 33% said it wasn't and 22% didn't know. There was no variation by rurality or remoteness. The most mentioned service area was parks/recreation followed by housing.
Sixty one per cent of respondents thought their councils were generally aware, or very aware of the needs of the area. However, only 42% thought that those in the council who decide what happens, understood what the area needed, ie it appears that awareness of needs did not always translate into awareness of what was required to address these needs.
Respondents were asked if the level of service in their local area was to the same standard as elsewhere. Fifty three per cent said that it was, 16% said that it wasn't and 30% didn't know. People in rural areas were a little more likely to say that services in their area were not being delivered to the same standard as elsewhere.
About the survey
The purpose of the survey was to provide data for the first stage of a 'before' and 'after' survey. The survey and sample designs were developed to meet the following key criteria:
  • data should be nationally representative;
  • the sample size and distribution did not have to allow valid results for individual authorities but data should be valid for three types of boundary change:
Type 1: existing regions assuming the functions of district authorities;

Type 2: groups of districts forming a new authority, smaller than the existing region;

Type 3: single districts forming a new authority and assuming the functions of regional authorities;

  • it should be possible to explore issues of access, rurality and remoteness;
  • the methodology should allow comparisons between the 'before' and 'after' stages. The sample design should therefore be independent of administrative boundaries and the sample size should be sufficient to identify relatively small shifts of opinion reliably.
To satisfy these criteria, two samples were used. The core sample was of 1,001 interviews. This was used for reporting nationally representative findings. The boosted sample contained an additional 500 interviews which were located in rural and remote areas. This was used for reporting on issues of access, rurality and remoteness. Both samples were random and unclustered and were taken from the Postal Address File. All of mainland Scotland was covered. All data quoted in this Research Findings are from the core sample unless otherwise indicated.
2
"Baseline Study of Public Knowledge and Perceptions of Local Government in Scotland", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased (price £5 per copy).
Cheques should be made payable to The Stationery Office Books and addressed to:
The Stationery Office Bookshop,
71 Lothian Road,
Edinburgh EH3 9AZ.
Telephone: 0131-288 4181 or Fax: 0131-229 2734.

The report can also be ordered online from:www.thestationeryoffice.co.uk

Further copies of this Research Findings may be obtained from:
The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
Room 5/72
New St Andrew's House
Edinburgh EH1 3TG
Telephone 0131-244 4384