Keeping It Local
By Dan Holden, Consultant

After a faltering start by New Labour, some big English cities are holding elections in May for ‘metro mayors’ – the culmination of years of effort to devolve power away from London. Despite this exciting innovation, 2017 is unlikely to be easy for local government: fiscal and social pressures are mounting and 2016 saw a Brexit-driven shake up of the political order.


Recent ComRes research is helping our clients to navigate and understand better the complex and changeable landscape of local government, providing insight into some of the most pressing issues facing the soon-to be mayors:

Homelessness

When asked if they would be willing to pay more tax if it was earmarked to help young homeless people for a ComRes poll in the Independent on Sunday / Sunday Mirror, voters baulked at the prospect.  Central government grants to local government have been cut by 35% between 2010 and 2015, so this really is an almighty challenge for local authorities who are taking on more responsibility for a worsening homelessness crisis.

Fiscal devolution

A ComRes poll for the Centre for London found that 57% of Londoners think the capital should be given more powers over its finances to ensure its continuing success after Brexit.  A separate poll for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 56% of businesses in the capital think increased fiscal devolution to London is important, reinforcing the appetite for devolving further tax powers.  The new mayors, with their ambitions to make an early impact, are only going to add to the clamour for more local and regional financial decision making.

Housing

According to a ComRes poll conducted for Empty Homes, three quarters (76%) of British adults think their local authority should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes. In recent years cities like Liverpool have launched innovative schemes to tackle the empty homes problem, but this represents yet another spending demand on already cash-strapped councils.

Adult social care

Social care is a source of enormous concern, exacerbated by a funding crisis and the strain of winter on the NHS. This is reflected in a poll ComRes conducted for Leonard Cheshire, which found that around 1 in 10 (9%) disabled adults say they have spent more time ill in hospital as a result of a lack of social care. At the same time a poll conducted for BBC Radio Five Live found that three quarters (73%) of the public thought social care should be protected from local authority cuts, forcing local government to look elsewhere for savings. ComRes has previously worked with East Suffolk District Council, polling the public on a merger between two neighbouring councils in order to cut administration costs, demonstrating the measures councils have to consider in this fiscal and political climate.


But will anyone turn out to vote?             

ComRes polling for Centre for Cities found that awareness of plans for new mayors is patchy.  Around half of adults in the Manchester, Liverpool and North East city-regions are familiar with local plans, but this is lower in the West Midlands and Sheffield city-regions, raising doubts about how many people will turn up to vote. The new mayors will need a strong mandate to tackle the intractable problems facing local government at a time of huge economic and political uncertainty.

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