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New research reveals how councillors can satisfy their voters

London councillors can make their voters happier within their existing budgets. They can do so by re-allocating their expenditures so that more funds are spent on bus and rail services. But the average Manchester voter would prefer to see more cash spent on bringing more jobs to their city while Birmingham residents would prefer more funds spent on cleaner streets.

These are the conclusions of a unique 'satisfaction index' developed by a team from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Queen's University Belfast. The Economic and Social Research Council funded the research which enabled them to develop their index based on responses to a survey of the three largest English metropolitan areas.

The researchers analysed responses on the overall satisfaction from a council's provision of local services, which were then related to the levels of council expenditures.

They believe that local councillors could do more to satisfy their voters if they applied these findings to their spending decisions.

'We set out to look at how citizens evaluate local services and what implications this has for their efficient delivery,' explains Prof Keith Dowding, author of the research. 'By doing so we wanted to inform policymakers how best to allocate funds.

'Preliminary results show that Londoners would be more satisfied if more money was allocated to public transport, Manchester residents would be happier if more was spent on planning and economic development and people living in the West Midlands would be more satisfied if more money was spent on street cleaning.

'We found there were different priorities in different areas,' adds Professor Dowding. 'These often relate to local economic circumstances. For example, residents of poorer districts value spending on education and highways less than residents in more affluent districts. Once local and personal economic and demographic circumstances are controlled for, we found that voters' preferences are not really different from city to city.'

Nationally, the research also reveals that when English urban residents evaluate their local public services they use a common national average as a basis, and not simply the average of their own metropolitan area.

The researchers believe that careful use of survey information on satisfaction with local council services can be used to derive the best way to spend council funds.


For further information, contact:

  • Professor Keith Dowding on 020 7955 7176 or 01865 760356 (home) or by email k.m.dowding@lse.ac.uk 
  • Or Mr Thanos Mergoupis on 028 90273308, or email a.mergoupis@qub.ac.uk 
  • Or Iain Stewart, Lesley Lilley or Anna Hinds at the ESRC Press Office on 01793 413032/413119/413122

Notes to editors  

  1. The research Local Government and its Discontents: citizens' preferences for local services was conducted by Mr Thanos Mergoupis of the School of Management and Economics, Queen's University, Belfast and Professor  Keith M Dowding from the Government Department, London School of Economics and Political Science.

  2. The research was derived from an analysis of the Citizens' Choice and Population Movement Survey 1997 which covered Greater London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands; the Audit Commission Performance Indicators; and information from Government Departments.

  3. The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £76 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at http://www.esrc.ac.uk

16 May 2003