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Public knowledge and attitudes to the balance of funding Prepared for ODPM


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Title: Public knowledge and attitudes to the balance of funding Prepared for ODPM

Public knowledge and attitudes to the balance of
funding Prepared for ODPM
October 2003
NOP contacts Alison Palmer
m 0207 890 9782 Dorte Laursen d.laursen_at_nopworl 0207 890 9772
Report Structure
  • Background, objectives, sample and
    methodology Page 3
  • Management summary
    Page 9
  • Main findings
    Page 17
  • Services provided by local authorities
    Page 18
  • Balance of funding
    Page 30
  • Voting in local elections
    Page 55
  • Local taxation issues
    Page 60
  • Differential local taxation
    Page 66
  • Scenario Boroughtown - examining various funding
    options Page 70
  • The key principles
    Page 77
  • Appendix Prompt materials exercises
    Page 87

Foreword on the research method
  • The research on which this report is based is
    purely qualitative
  • qualitative research, by definition, is
    exploratory in nature, with its aim being to look
    in depth at peoples views and opinions
  • in qualitative research there is no attempt to
    achieve statistical validity, or for the findings
    to be representative of the population at large
  • The sample for this study was drawn up to ensure
    that the views of a broad spectrum of the general
    public were included, but it was not intended to
    be representative of the UK population
  • Words and terminology used throughout the report
    are derived from the comments made by the
    participants in the research
  • The technique of deliberative focus groups was
    used for this study. This is a research technique
    favoured in studies where complex issues are to
    be debated, and where it is anticipated that
    people need to be given detailed information,
    before communicating their opinions and debating
    the issues
  • the groups begin with exploring spontaneous
    knowledge and awareness of a subject
  • then detailed information is provided to assist
    people in the debate
  • views and opinions are then sought on a range of

Research Objectives
  • What people know about balance of funding
  • Whether and how much people care about it
  • Attitudes about how well the current system works
  • How it influences voting (or other) behaviour
  • Where peoples priorities lie
  • What changes the public would make to the current
  • Peoples views on differential local taxation

  • A total of 12 deliberative focus groups of 2.5
    hours duration
  • Replacement groups were conducted due to low
    respondent turn-out in two locations
  • Groups were moderated by Alison Palmer, Dorte
    Laursen, Gwenan Evans and Yvonne Levy
  • Group sizes varied from 4 to 10 participants with
    a total of 92 respondents
  • Mix of gender 48 male, 44 female
  • Span of ages 18 to 73 yrs
  • Range of SEG B, C1 and C2
  • Locations of focus groups spread across
  • Rural and urban areas
  • High and low local finding areas
  • Unitary/ metropolitan districts, two tier areas
    and London Boroughs

Sample by location level of funding
  • High local funding

Low local funding
Grp. 3 Slough Unitary Council Mixed gender 40-50
yrs BC1
Grp. 4 Birmingham Metropolitan Council Mixed
gender 25-39 yrs C1C2
Grp. 9 London Borough of Richmond upon
Thames Mixed gender 50-60 yrs C1C2
Grp. 10 Stockport Metropolitan Female 60 yrs BC1
Grp. 5 London Borough of Islington Male 18-25
yrs BC1
Grp 11 (Replacement group for Grp 5) Grp.
11 London Boroughs of Islington, Southwark and
Haringey Male 18-25 yrs BC1
Grp. 12 (Replacement group for Grp 2) Oxford
District Council Mixed gender 50- 60 yrs BC1
Grp. 2 Kings Lynn West Norfolk District
Council Mixed gender 50- 60 yrs BC1
Grp. 1 Gloucester City Council Male 60 yrs C1C2
Grp. 6 Harrogate District Council Mixed
gender 25-39 yrs BC1
Grp. 8 South Northamptonshire District
Council Mixed gender 40-50 yrs C1C2
Grp. 7 East Hampshire District
Council Female 18-25 yrs C1C2
Research timetable
  • Focus groups from the 16th September to 13th
    October 2003
  • 16th Sep Islington Richmond
  • 17th Sep Kings Lynn Birmingham
  • 18th Sep Harrogate
  • 23rd Sep Northamptonshire (Towcester) East
    Hampshire (Selborne)
  • 24th Sep Slough
  • 25th Sep Stockport
  • 30th Sep Gloucester
  • 30th Sep Islington/Southwark/Haringey
    (replacement group)
  • 13th Oct Oxford (replacement group)
  • Note Focus groups took place during the
    political party conference season
  • On 23rd September the Liberal Democrats announce
    that they plan to abolish Council Tax

Research method
  • Deliberative focus groups
  • Current knowledge and awareness of Balance of
    Funding (BoF) was explored at a spontaneous level
  • Detailed information on BoF, together with a
    series of related scenarios, were shown to
    respondents in all groups
  • All materials used to inform the debate were
    prepared in consultation with ODPM and are
    appended to this document
  • Views and opinions were then sought on the issues
    and scenarios in question

Reporting device
  • Colour coding is used throughout the report to
    visually highlight differences by
  • Age
  • Social Economic Grade
  • High vs. low funding areas
  • Rural vs. urban areas
  • A dark green box indicates exercises undertaken
    and/ or prompt materials shown

  • Management summary

Management summary
  • General awareness of service provision
  • There is a good overall level of knowledge about
    what services are provided by the Local
    Authority. Those living in unitary authorities or
    metropolitan districts find it most
    straightforward. Some confusion exists in two
    tier authorities, however, where the district and
    county councils divide up the responsibilities.
    People living in London are generally aware of
    the GLA, but they too are not absolutely clear on
    the crossover between the remit of the GLA and
    that of the individual London boroughs.
  • People say they have easy access to information
    from a range of local sources and maintain that
    they have enough information for their everyday
    needs. When they need to find out additional
    information, they know where to access it.

Management summary
  • What people know about balance of funding and
    how much they care about it
  • Most people know next to nothing about the
    balance of funding. When asked where the money
    comes from to provide local services, there is
    awareness that the money comes from a combination
    of Council Tax, business rates and from general
    taxation, including Income Tax and VAT, which are
    all collected by the government. Few people have
    any knowledge of what the balance of funding is
    between government grants and money raised
    locally through the Council Tax. When asked to
    hazard a guess, most people say they think the
    majority of money used to fund local services
    comes from Council Tax. Most peoples guesses
    fall into the following range 20-30 from
    central government and 70-80 from Council Tax.
    When informed that the average is 75 central
    government 25 Council Tax, people are very
    surprised but claim that this does not matter
    much, provided there are effective checks and
    balances on the way the money is spent. Because
    the government is providing the bulk of the
    funds, it is assumed that they set guidelines for
    the councils and are involved in ensuring that
    the money is accounted for. However, there is
    belief from some quarters that the volume of
    audit information on service delivery that
    councils are required to complete is excessive,
    giving rise to the funds being used for
    bureaucratic purposes rather than for service
  • Many people express concern about recent rises in
    Council Tax. This is the case across all ages
    and socio-economic groups, although the very
    young, people on low incomes and pensioners
    expressed this most strongly. There is
    corresponding anxiety about giving too much
    control to local authorities. In brief, people
    are not concerned about the balance of funding
    but they care very much about who has the control
    over the expenditure.

Management summary
  • Attitudes to the current system
  • People think that the benefit of the current
    system, where the majority of the money comes
    from central government funds, is that money is
    fairly distributed across the country (north and
    south, urban and rural), between local
    authorities, and between richer and poorer areas.
    In this way, everyone can enjoy at least minimum
    standards of services i.e. equalisation. In the
    case of education, health, social services and
    transport, people are of the opinion that it is
    critical to have national standards, with
    everyone receiving the same level of service
    wherever they live. For other services, local
    variations are acceptable - for instance it is
    generally recognised that a priority for one area
    may be different to that for another, and it is
    right that local authorities should be encouraged
    to respond to the needs of the local community.
    Examples of where variation is necessary includes
    increased attention to policing in inner cities,
    attention to issues relating to tourism where
    this is an important source of local revenue,
    increased levels of social services in poorer
    areas where there is a high density of low-income
  • However, some people firmly reject the concept of
    equalisation. Among the research participants,
    there are those who are more focused on
    self-interest. These individuals are happy to
    live in a richer borough that provides superior
    services to residents who can afford to pay above
    average. They appear unconcerned about the
    effect on the people who live in boroughs that
    cannot afford to provide even minimum standards
    of service to residents.
  • Cont.

Management summary
  • Attitudes to the current system, continued….
  • Finally, one issue that people identify as
    problematic in the current system of balance of
    funding concerns the effect of differences of
    opinion between central government and local
    authorities. Where there is a dispute over
    services, people claim that this often leads to
    delay in their implementation or even their
    abandonment. Whilst this is recognised as a
    necessary part of being a democratic society, it
    is nonetheless frustrating to residents and can
    have long-term effects on service delivery. The
    examples given varied between groups, but
    included a sports complex, social centre or local
    bus route that had been discussed at length, but
    had taken years to get off the ground.

Management summary
  • How it influences voting behaviour?
  • There is no evidence from the research that the
    current system of funding has any effect
    positive or negative - on voter behaviour, either
    in whether they chose to cast a vote in local
    elections and if so, for whom/which party. This
    was true across the board. There was evidence
    that older people voted because it was their
    civic duty. People under 30, on the other hand,
    came across as seriously uninterested in voting
    at local elections, claiming that no one has
    given them a rationale as to why they should vote
    or what difference it makes were they to do so.
    Local election campaigning is seen to be
    sporadic, and a bit of a hit and miss affair, in
    that few people get the complete picture of who
    is standing for election and why. The
    information is organised and distributed by each
    political party, rather than on the basis of what
    individuals stand for at a local level. This
    does not make sense to residents, as local
    elections are seen to be about local issues
    rather than about party politics.
  • There is most engagement and a higher disposition
    to vote in more rural areas where older people in
    particular become involved in the parish council
    and serve on various local committees. Where the
    local councillors are known and their activities
    and efforts are appreciated, then there is a
    loyalty to these individuals, and people claim to
    vote for them on the basis of what they are doing
    for the local community, irrespective of which
    political party they represent.

Management summary
  • Where people's priorities lie in determining
    funding strategy
  • The priority for most people is being able to see
    where their money is being spent. There is a
    call for transparency - seeing changes happen to
    benefit their area and seeing problems addressed
    in line with the needs and wishes of local
    residents. People want those delivering services
    to have flexibility to spend money where it is
    needed, with one overriding proviso - that there
    are checks and balances and independent auditing
    in place to ensure the money is properly
    accounted for and efficiently spent -
    accountability. People also feel that the system
    has to be fair to all with people paying
    according to their means and that people across
    the country get a fair share of the pot of money
    to which they are contributing - equalisation.
  • People do not want radical change. Above all,
    they want the government to retain some control
    over expenditure at a local level, and if this
    means that the government retains the highest
    proportion of funding, then they are happy with

Management summary
  • Views on differential local taxation
  • As mentioned earlier, people want national
    standards for key services - education, health,
    social services and transport. They also want
    minimum standards for services such as refuse
    collection, street cleaning, street lighting etc.
    Provided both these requirements are fulfilled,
    and local residents are consulted, people are
    happy for residents anywhere in the country to
    choose to pay for additional local services. For
    services that are over and above the minimum
    requirements, people prefer a pay as you use
    system rather than their paying indirectly
    through local taxation. Relevant to this is the
    fact that people think that differential local
    taxation is already happening through the Council
    Tax system. There is little or no obvious
    difference between the views of people of
    different ages or social grades.
  • Potential new forms of local tax, such as a new
    local income tax or local sales tax, were not
    mentioned spontaneously. When prompted, people
    are unable to grasp how these taxes might operate
    and their consequences. Further briefing would
    thus be required to get a meaningful discussion
    of peoples views on these local tax issues.
  • When the gearing issue is explained, people find
    it very difficult to understand the concept. At
    its simplest level, people take it to mean that
    residents in poorer boroughs would have to pay a
    higher proportion of their existing council tax
    bill to fund additional council services than
    those in well off boroughs. For most people,
    this is thought to be fundamentally unfair and,
    in the opinion of those consulted, likely to be

  • Main findings

  • Awareness of services provided by Local

Knowledge of services provided by Local
Authorities (LA)
  • Overall, a good level of knowledge with a wide
    range of services mentioned spontaneously
  • People are predominantly concerned with services
    which directly affect them e.g pot holes, street
    lights, dustbins etc
  • Local areas have symbolic, continuously debated
  • E.g unfinished bypass in Stockport, sports
    complex in a Hampshire village, statue in central
  • Lack of clarity about local councils role in the
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Health/ NHS
  • Transport

Age is key influence on services
mentioned Younger education Families
childcare education Pensioners transport

In rural areas, transport is frequently mentioned
as a problem area
  • Also local responsibility for transport versus
    responsibility of others
  • E.g. GLA, DfT etc
  • Local/ minor roads versus motorways and national
    road network

Neighbouring area comparison (LA services)
  • Few respondents have lived in other areas
  • Therefore difficult to provide comparisons
  • But some evidence of the grass is greener on the
    other side attitude
  • Any differences between councils are identified
    through services available and standards achieved
  • People especially notice visual differences e.g.
    flowers in the town centre, lack of pot holes
  • Differences are not recognised in terms of
    sources of council income as people in general
    have little or no knowledge of the subject

Particularly in low local funding areas
Stockport is a lot better than Manchester for
recycling, they dont get the garden rubbish
taken away (Grp 10, high local funding)
  • Also, it is a common belief that needs and
    priorities vary from council to council

Information retrieval (LA services)
However, young people tend to rely heavily on
parents as source of information and do not feel
information is readily available
  • Belief that information is easily available
  • Most maintain they have enough information
  • Active involvement required if needing to uncover
    specific information
  • still regarded as available on demand
  • Two types of sources of information, passive
  • Generally use passive sources of information
  • Seek out issue-related information
  • Frustration reported in identifying which council
    department to contact for a specific problem e.g.
    bulb replacement for street light, pot hole
    filling etc

Specifically, information on local council
election/ voting is not thought to be easily
accessible for first time voters
Most people feel comfortable about how to get
information - even non readily available
information, which requires digging around
Sources of information (LA services)
  • Passive
  • Papers (local free press)
  • Council free sheets
  • Leaflets (usually with Council Tax bill)
  • Thats what the council wants you to read (Grp
    9, 50-60 yrs)
  • Friends/ family/ neighbours
  • Life experiences
  • Local radio and local/ regional programming on TV
  • Active
  • Council web site
  • Visit/ phone local council office
  • Libraries
  • Planning permission posters
  • Local network
  • Friends/ neighbours
  • Officials

Pensioners in particular are keen readers of the
letter pages in local papers and tend to discuss
local issues with neighbours

Active information-seeking rarely occurs, unless
specific problem needs addressing e.g. reporting
Most keep abreast of local information through
Requirement for National standard
  • People identify key services to be provided to a
    national standard
  • Education
  • Health
  • Social services
  • Transportation
  • For other services, e.g refuse collection and
    street cleaning, people want minimum standards

Young people and parents have particularly strong
views on education There should be free nursery
places in all areas Pensioners have strong views
on health
Things like health and education should be
national standard, you want the same wherever you
are (Grp 7, 18-25 yrs, female)
Transport rates should be the same for old
people in every area (Grp 1, 60 yrs)
National standards should be provided for
services, which are perceived of high importance
to society, i.e. education, health, social
services and transportation
LA services - verbatim comments
If you want the details, you can go to the
libraries (Grp 8, Towcester)
You can read about it in the local paper (Grp
6, Harrogate)
There are a few pages in the telephone book with
numbers to ring for the council
(Grp 4, Birmingham)
The letter pages in the local paper is how you
get real information about the real problems
(Grp 1, 60 yrs)
If you dig enough you can find the
information, but it take ages (Grp 9,
  • Local Authority structure

Local Authority structure
  • Groups were conducted amongst residents of
  • Unitary/ Metropolitan
  • Two tier areas
  • London Boroughs
  • Each was shown how services were divided up in
    their local authority structure
  • Comments were gathered
  • Please see appendices for prompt materials shown

Unitary Metropolitan
  • Unitary Metropolitan areas
  • Some spontaneous mention of the terms Unitary
    (before showing prompt materials)
  • People understand that Unitary means that it
    takes care of everything

Two Tiers
  • People are aware of the two tier structure
  • District Council seen as key, due to tax
    collecting role
  • Country Council more distant role
  • Little knowledge of precise roles and
    responsibilities between the two tiers

Its the District Council who collect council
tax (Grp 1, Gloucester)

The County Council is further away
(Grp 7, East Hampshire)
I am aware of the County Council, but I didnt
know they did different things (Grp 7,
East Hampshire)
London Boroughs
  • Borough plays the key role
  • Delivery of local services
  • Collecting Council Tax
  • People are aware of GLA
  • Responsibilities include transport and congestion
  • But lack of clarity/ confusion on other
    responsibilities vis a vis local Boroughs

Youd think the GLA would have more
responsibility, theyre quite limited in their
powers (Grp 11, Islington,
Southwark Haringey)

Everything the GLA does, the Borough does as
well (Grp 11, Islington, Southwark
Im not sure what Ken does (Grp 9,
  • General awareness of Balance of Funding (BoF)

Sources of council funding (1)
  • People were asked to say what proportion of funds
    came from
  • Council Tax
  • Central government
  • Most people found this to be a very difficult
  • They had never thought about it before
  • But prepared to guess
  • Most people think the majority of money comes
    from Council Tax
  • Guesses in range
  • 20-30 central government
  • 70-80 Council Tax
  • Only a few people get close to the real situation
    i.e. 75 central government, 25 local authority
    - on average

Sources of council funding (2)
  • Sources of council funding are not something that
    many people consciously have thought of
  • However, on close questioning, most people are
    aware that money, available to spend within their
    council, comes from different sources
  • Council Tax
  • The government i.e. income tax and VAT
  • Business rates
  • Recognised by respondents, who own a business or
    have family/ friends who do
  • Business rates frequently assumed to be a council
    income source
  • People are very vague in terms of identifying
    their sources of information
  • Most make an educated guess or regard it as
    general knowledge
  • Council Tax bill
  • Council annual leaflet/ magazine

Sources of council funding - Verbatim comments
The council tax bill tells you where the money
goes rather than where they get the funds from
(Grp 1, Gloucester)
They used to send a leaflet with a pie chart on
it (Grp 3, Slough)
Things like parking fines go straight to the
council to dispose of as they see fit
(Grp 11, Islington, Southwark
The council gets business rates (Grp 9,
How local government is financed - Average
  • Groups were shown the average balance of funding
    between central government and local authorities
  • 75 central government
  • 25 local government
  • Please see appendix for prompt material shown

How local government is financed - Reactions
  • Great surprise!

I thought it would be the other way around
(Grp 9, 50-60 yrs)
I think thats a bit high, I though it might be
50/50 (Grp 10, 60 yrs, female)
Im stunned (Grp 8, 40-50 yrs)
Oh my god! (Grp 5, 18-25 yrs, male)
I thought it was 15-20 from the government
(Grp 11, 18-25 yrs, male)
Gosh, so Council Tax isnt the biggest funder
(Grp 1, 60 yrs, male)
How local government is financed - Further
  • Groups were shown examples of Balance of Funding
    (BoF) for four areas
  • 2 examples in the North
  • 2 examples in the South
  • 2 high local funding areas
  • 2 low local funding areas
  • Please see appendices for prompt materials shown

How local government is financed - Reactions to
further examples
  • Useful exercise in helping people understand
  • Differences between richer and poorer areas
  • Affects areas across the country
  • Principles of equalisation
  • The exercise brought out differences in social
  • Good for richer areas to support poorer areas
  • versus
  • People in richer areas being punished

Do they take from the rich councils and give to
the poorer? (Grp 9, high local
How local government is financed - local area
  • People in each group were invited to estimate the
    proportion of funds raised locally i.e. BoF for
    their area
  • The answers differed by area but people still
    tended to overestimate the proportion raised
  • Especially true for low local funded/ poorer
  • Dont want their area to be labelled poor
  • Reason given for overestimating when challenged
  • Currently pay high Council Tax

I thought it would be at least 70 from Council
Tax, because we never get any money back (Grp 9,
high local funding)
I thought I was running Stockport on my Council
Tax! (Grp 10, high local funding)
  • Why does the Balance of Funding (BoF) matter?

Why does the BoF matter? (1)
  • People were asked to work in small groups to come
    up with the reasons why BoF matters
  • Most people struggled to complete this exercise
  • Never thought about it before
  • Questioned whether it mattered at all

Why does the BoF matter? (2)
  • What people came up with
  • Ensuring a fair distribution of money across the
    country between richer and poorer areas
  • Particular support to poorer areas
  • But not everybody has a social conscience
  • A necessity, as sufficient money cannot be raised
  • A way of distributing funds to local areas from
    income tax
  • Ensuring that in the country as a whole it is
    possible to target specific issues
  • Supporting areas which are affected by national
    social problems e.g. asylum seekers in Dover
  • Supporting tourism in relevant locations
  • Supporting deprived inner city areas
  • Bringing business, industry and jobs to an area
  • BUT...

Slough has to support all the refugees, whereas
Maidenhead can spend more money making the town
look pretty as they dont need to support social
services (Grp
3, low local funding)
Why does the BoF matter? (3)
  • Overall people think

  • Where the money comes from
  • does not matter

How the money is spent does matter
People keep returning to subject of control in
terms of spending power and decisions.
Why does the BoF matter verbatim comments
Balance according to income available locally
against budgeted expenditure (Grp
9, high local funding)
Its all about ensuring a balance of services
and balances the needs across different areas
(Grp 1, low local funding)
Its about balance of needs (Grp
3, low local funding)
Everyone should have access to a certain level
of services and if poorer areas had to rely on
Council Tax only then they wouldnt get that
level (Grp 11, 18-25
yrs, male
With money coming from two different sources, it
is easier to hide problems and just pass the
buck (Grp 3, low local funding)
Its to ensure a national minimum standard
(Grp 8, high local funding)
Why does the BoF not matter verbatim comments
It is how it is spent rather than where it comes
from (Grp 1, low local funding)
It is how theyre dishing it out that matters.
Maidenhead always looks lovely, but Langley looks
awful (Grp 3, low
local funding)
At the end of the day it doesnt matter where
the money comes from because the council will
choose how it is spent (Grp 9
high local funding)
It doesnt matter where the moneys coming from,
if the money is spent wisely (Grp 2,
low local funding)
It doesnt matter where the money comes from as
it all comes from the tax payers
(Grp 4, low local funding)
  • Local Authority versus Central Government
    argument regarding BoF

LA vs. central government argument regarding BoF
  • Groups were shown details of
  • Central government argument regarding BoF
  • Local government argument regarding BoF
  • The two arguments were rotated between groups
  • Please see appendices for prompt materials shown

Central government argument
Central government argument
  • Contradictory responses
  • Agreement as central government does not have
    local knowledge where money is needed
  • Strongly held view indicate that government
    should carry out checks and balances and set
    guidelines for LA spending
  • Balance of control more important than BoF

Reduction of ring-fenced grants
  • Disagreement, as majority do not want local
    council to be in full control without government
    playing overseeing role
  • Includes government retaining ability to cap

Abolishment of universal capping
People actively want central government to retain
a measure of control
LA argument
LA argument
  • Relying on central government grant - reduces
    their independence
  • Majority unsympathetic to argument of lack of
  • Fail to see connection with BoF

  • Seen as a very important requirement, but fail to
    see connection with BoF

Reliance on central funding - causes voter apathy
  • Where the money comes from (BoF), is perceived to
    have no effect on voting behaviour or intentions
    to vote

Reliance on central funding - reduces turnout in
local gvmt elections
LA argument Gearing (1)
  • Groups were shown the principles of gearing…
  • People found it very difficult, if not
    impossible, to understand the concept of gearing
  • Despite explanation
  • Views polarise from

Think it is fundamentally unfair
Feel indifferent about it
LA argument Gearing (2)
  • Who thinks this?
  • People in low local funding areas
  • People with social conscience regardless of
  • Think it is fundamentally unfair
  • Penalises poorer areas
  • Penalises pensioners and those on a low income

Its not fair if you live in a poor area (Grp
7, high local funding
Poorer councils will always play catch up
(Grp 3, low local funding)
LA argument Gearing (3)
  • Feel indifferent about it
  • Resigned/ simply the way things are
  • Who thinks this?
  • Tend to be people in high local funding areas
  • Those driven more by self interest

It may look harsh, but its a fair way of doing
it (Grp 11, low local
It sounds worse than it is (Grp 10,
high local funding)
If you cant afford it, you cant have it
(Grp 9, high local funding
Overview of LA vs. central government argument (1)
  • On balance, most sympathy with central government
    argument compared to LA argument
  • Control is the core issue - it is more important
    than the actual source of funding (Bof)
  • A common belief is that control of how funds are
    spent should lie with LA due to their local
    knowledge of service requirements
  • However, central government guidelines needed to
  • Transparency
  • Accountability (achieved through checks and
    balances/ audits)

Control is the core issue, with views that LA
should control spending decisions, but with
central government playing an overseeing role
Overview of LA vs. central government argument (2)
  • Feeling of distrust appears to exist - typically
    neither LA nor central government is trusted
  • Majority feel uncomfortable allowing LA full
    control of funds, despite belief that LA is best
    suited to identify where funds are needed
  • Central government is too far removed from local
    issues to be involved in local spending decisions
  • However, needed to ensure accountability of money
    spent locally
  • Yet others feel councils are required to complete
    an excessive amount of audit information for
    central government, resulting in funds being
    needed for bureaucratic purposes instead of local

Just let them get on with the job (Grp 12, low
local funding)
Trust in LA is not sufficient to give LA full
control of funds, central government ideally
needed to ensure accountability of funds spent
LA vs. central government argument - verbatim
Local councils just want more and more money
(Grp 1, low local funding)
Little projects should be decided locally, but
bigger things should be decided by the
government (Grp 11, low local funding)
It should be audited to ensure that funds are
spent in the right way (Grp 9, high local
The government doesnt know whats needed in
different areas (Grp 5, low
local funding)
The councils should have freedom, but with the
government setting guidelines
(Grp 11, low local funding)
Local council is cheating on the paperwork
because they cant meet the unrealistic targets
set by the government (Grp 12,
low local funding)
  • Voting effect of the Balance of Funding (BoF)

General attitudes towards voting (1)
  • Older people (50 yrs) saw voting as their civic
  • Majority of younger people (- 25 yrs) admitted
    not voting for various reasons
  • Dont know how to
  • Confused who to vote for
  • Limited or no interest in political
    matters (boring)
  • Age is the most dominant influence resulting in
    different attitudes to voting
  • However, some views are shared by non voters
    regardless of age
  • Tendency to think that voting does not make a
  • Hassle factor i.e. getting to the voting station
  • Some participants supported compulsory voting (as
    in some Australian states).

General attitudes towards voting (2)
  • Type of election (whether national or local),
    also influences attitudes to voting and level of
  • Local elections have little interest for many
  • General confusion about what local candidates
    stand for, i.e. views on local issues not just
    party orientation
  • Leaflets are generalised - solely providing info
    on the party and not the local candidate
  • Local candidates often the same year on year
  • Limited number of local candidates
  • Local councillors are only seen at election
  • Apathy if local area is dominated by one party
    that respondent does not support

Except regular voters who take an interest in
politics or are active in the local community
Effects of BoF on voting?
  • BoF appears to have little or no influence on
    voter inclination as people appear indifferent
    towards the source of funding
  • People claim they might be more inclined to vote
    if they could have more influence over local
    spending decisions
  • Where the money comes from

Where how the money is spent
I dont think it matters where the money comes
from I still wont vote (Grp 11, 18-25
yrs, male)
Does not influence voting
Could influence voting
Voting Verbatim comments
You feel a bit in the dark. Having turned 18, I
wonder if there is anything I should do (Grp 7,
18-25 yrs, female)
You only see them when it is election time
(Grp 6, 25-39 yrs)
I dont vote in local elections even if you do
vote, nothing ever changes (Grp 4,
25-39 yrs)
When we have families of our own, maybe then we
will vote (Grp 7, 18-25 yrs, female)
It would be good if you could vote online or use
your mobile phone (Grp 11, 18-25 yrs, male)
If you dont vote, you have no say
(Grp 3, 40-50 yrs)
Its a different generation, we believe in
voting, thats the way we were brought up (Grp
10, 60 yrs, female)
No one has told me to register for the Electoral
roll. You dont know if you are supposed to
register or vote unless your parents tell you
(Grp 7, 18-25 yrs, female)
I did have a gripe, but nothing happened, so I
didnt vote the next time (Grp 9,
50-60 yrs)
  • Local taxation issues

Council Tax
  • Majority of people express concern and resentment
    over council tax rises, and are of the belief
    that the current level of council tax in their
    area is too high
  • Many opinions of the current council tax system
  • Regarded by some as a property tax with no
    relation to local services received
  • Evidence of individualism i.e. dissatisfaction
    having to pay for local services, which they do
    not use e.g. swimming pool
  • gt preference for a pay as you use system
  • Yet others believe in contributing to all
    services whether or not they use them
  • Some wish to see a new type of Council Tax, based
    on ability to pay
  • Some confusion regarding council tax banding also
  • Despite the Liberal Democrats announcement to
    abolish Council Tax, made during the research
    fieldwork period
  • Only two spontaneous specific mentioning
  • But for the rest the awareness was low or
  • No apparent influence on peoples responses

The very young, people on low income and
pensioners express particular concern with recent
Council Tax increases
Pay per person especially mentioned by
pensioners and young people, with the latter
often being unaware of the previous Poll Tax as
it was before their time
Council Tax - verbatim comments
When the kids were young we used most of the
services offered by the council. Now that we are
retired, we dont use local facilities anymore,
but I am still happy to contribute towards these
services, so other families with children can get
as much use as I did (Grp 10, 60
Its nothing to do with council amenities
really, Council Tax is a property tax
(Grp 10, 60 yrs)
Why do I have to pay more council tax because I
live in a bigger house? The house size doesnt
influence how often I need my bin emptied or my
street cleaned (Grp 6, 25-39
You shouldnt pay for what you dont use
(Grp 4, 25-39 yrs)
I think you should pay for what you use. I
reckon the Americans have got it right
(Grp 4, 25-39 yrs)
You get put in a higher band if your property
value goes up (Grp 3,
50-60 yrs)
Idea of raising more tax locally
  • Respondents were asked what they thought of the
    idea of
  • Councils raising more tax locally - coupled with
    an equal reduction in national Income Tax?

Idea of raising more tax locally - Reactions
  • Rejected by most due to
  • Generally strong dislike of Council Tax across
    all ages and SEG not necessarily founded upon
    facts, but feelings opinions
  • Common belief of paying too much Council Tax
  • Also rejected due to
  • Distrust in and scepticism towards LA
    accountability and efficiency
  • Whats the hidden agenda? (Grp 2, 50-60 yrs)
  • Suspicion that Council Tax will just continue to

Less support from frequent users of local
services, especially young people, pensioners and
  • Suggested alternative solutions
  • Implement pay as you use system
  • Impose higher Council Tax and/ or local income
    tax on high earners in the area

Mainly supported by people of lower income and
young people
Idea of raising more tax locally - verbatim
It gives the council an open door. At least with
the government you feel that it is going to be
kept at a suitable level (Grp 9, 50-60 yrs)
Its the thin edge of the wedge if you give them
that power (Grp 10, 60 yrs,
It should be relative to your capacity to earn
(Grp 11, 18-25 yrs, male)
I dont like that idea, its unfair to
pensioners and people who arent earning
(Grp 3, 40-50 yrs)
I think the more abled should pay more tax
(Grp 6, 25-39 yrs)
It should be like the Irish system where they
pay a direct income-based tax instead of council
tax. It would be the fairest
(Grp 10, 60 yrs, female)
  • Differential local taxation

Differential local taxation (1)
  • There is a general belief that a differential
    local taxation already exists due to differences
    seen in
  • Level of council tax/ property band
  • Discount for single people and exemption for
  • Standard and range of local services offered
  • As a result, exclusion from moving to/ being
    forced out of a particular area already occurs
  • Many people appear to support the argument of
    paying more but only if certain criteria are
  • National standards are provided for key services
    (education, health, social services and
  • Minimum standards are provided for other services
    (refuse collection, street cleaning, street
    lighting etc)
  • The increased tax is intended for purposes, that
    residents are in favour of. (Residents should be
    consulted properly e.g. through referendum or
    other local consultation process)

Differential local taxation (2)
  • Opposing views with regard to implementation of
    different local taxation do exist - depending on
    place of residence (high vs. low funded area) and
    level of personal income
  • High local funded areas
  • Willingness to consider different local taxation
  • However, transparency is key, i.e. what is the
    additional council tax spend on?
  • Referendum required
  • Low local funded areas people on lower income
  • Equalisation should prevail regardless
  • avoid large differences between areas
  • Some people reject the entire argument of
    different local taxation, based on the belief
    that more money is not needed locally it is a
    question of LA management and efficiency

Differential local taxation verbatim comments
Its fair if the money stays in the local area
so you get what you pay for
(Grp 3, low local funding)
It could be an ideal way, because the councils
should know more about the Boroughs need, but
you have to trust them (Grp 11, low
local funding)
You are already restricted which area you can
move to (Grp 6, high local
It is not fair if you live in the poorer area
(Grp 7, high local funding)
It would just create a bigger divide, the rich
get richer and the poor get poorer
(Grp 3, low local funding)
If you are getting benefits from money its not
bad, but none of us have money to burn thats
what if feels like sometimes when paying Council
Tax (Grp 12, low local funding)
It would give you more choice. If I earned more
money and my rubbish didnt get collected
properly, then I would be willing to pay more to
get it done. But it is equally unfair if you
cant pay (Grp 6, high
local funding)
You shouldnt need to pay more to get better
services (Grp 4, low local
  • Boroughtown The park scenario

Boroughtown scenario - the park scenario
  • Groups were given the following exercise to
    complete in pairs or small groups
  • You are a member of the district council for
    Boroughtown, an industrial urban area which has
    no park. The council has a public commitment to
    provide a new park and recreational facilities.
    This idea is widely supported by the community.
    The park will have a football pitch, tennis
    courts, a swimming pool, some woodland and large
    open areas, paths, CCTV cameras, toilet
    facilities, a café, and the new Queen Mother
    Memorial Garden.
  • However, you cannot afford to pay for the park
    out of the councils existing budget. You need to
    find 1.5 million over 3 years to set it up, and
    100,000 a year in staff and running costs.
  • Assuming decision has been taken to progress
  • How should the council raise the money for this
    (initial and ongoing costs)?
  • You have tried unsuccessfully to access lottery /
    European funding etc. and decided its not
    suitable for a private finance initiative.
  • You need to try to raise the money locally, what
    are the funding options?

Boroughtown Park - spontaneous funding suggestions
  • At a spontaneous level, most are reluctant to
    include a rise in Council Tax as a funding option
    the council tax increase option is chosen as a
    last resort
  • Options favoured most often mentioned at top
  • User charges
  • Corporate sponsorship
  • Private lottery/ raffle
  • Fundraising
  • Volunteers
  • Franchising
  • Partnerships

For facilities only, not the actual entry to the
Local businesses or relevant sports brands to
contribute to build costs in return for
promotional opportunities
OAPs volunteering to maintain park or the daily
running of the café
Park café out-sourced and rent charged
E.g. private developer to build park in return
for access to suitable land for commercial
development. Local football league to use
football pitch in return for promotional
Boroughtown Park - prompted options
  • A choice of funding options were given to groups
    and respondents were asked to choose their
    preferred funding option
  • (1) Raise Council Tax
  • N.B. You already have a council tax rise this
    year and there is resistance to further rises.
  • (2) Use a new local income tax
  • N.B. This would target higher earners in the area
  • (3) Use a new local sales tax
  • N.B. This would target purchases made in the
    area (either all purchases or particular types of
    non-essential / luxury purchases)
  • (4) Borrow the money
  • N.B. Regardless of who you borrow the money from
    you will have to pay interest on the loan, and
    pay it back in the long term (possibly by
    charging user-fees or increasing taxation).
  • (5) Introduce a specific local tax for this
  • (6) Have entry charges to the park and/or to use
    of the facilities

Boroughtown Park - reactions to prompted options
  • People focus on the running costs but are
    reluctant to tackle the budget needed to build
    the park
  • Most popular option is user charges
  • Most against charging for entry
  • Want people to pay as use, as with commercial
  • Want visitors from other area to pay higher
    charges (I.e. discount card for local residents
  • Some people recognise that user charges may only
    cover upkeep, but reluctance to borrow money for
    original building costs
  • Also reluctance to opt for raising Council Tax
    because this will hit people who may not benefit
    from the facilities and who cannot afford the
  • Some mentioning of new forms of local tax
  • Local income taxes
  • Local sales taxes
  • Specific local tax
  • But a lack of understanding of how these options
    would work/ impact on people
  • A meaningful discussion of peoples views on
    these issues was not possible

Voiced particularly by those on fixed incomes
e.g. pensioners, low paid
  • Nervous about suggesting anything that may mean
    their overall tax bill rises

Boroughtown Park - reactions to prompted options
  • Average answers by group location

South Northamptonshire
East Hampshire
User charges/ Specific local tax
High local funding
User charges
User charges
User charges
User charges
Islington/ Southwark/ Haringey
Kings Lynn West Norfolk
User charges/ Specific local tax
User charges/ Borrow the money
User charges/ Borrow the money
Low local funding
User charges
User charges
User charges
Specific local tax
Boroughtown Park verbatim comments
A group of pensioners could look after the park
and things like that, alone its not much but put
together and youve got half a park (Grp 3, low
local funding)
You could give people the options that they can
pay more money in Council Tax and have the park,
or choose not to have the park (Grp
4, low local funding)
You could register people who work in the area,
but dont live here, so that they can pay towards
the upkeep of the area (Grp 3, high local
The idea is to make it self-financing but non
profit making (Grp 10, high local funding)
I believe that you shouldnt pay for what you
dont use (Grp 4, low local
  • The key principles

The key principles - prompted options
  • Six principles were shown to groups and
    respondents were asked to prioritise principles
    in order of importance when deciding on a funding
    strategy for local councils
  • Accountability
  • Making it as clear as possible what the
    taxpayers money is spent on, and who is
    responsible for tax rises and spending decisions.
  • Equalisation
  • Providing a fair share-out of central government
    support with a view to avoiding huge differences
    in levels of service in different parts of the
  • Fairness
  • Making sure that every taxpayers share of the
    local tax burden is as fair as possible, so
    that no group is overburdened.
  • Flexibility
  • Making sure that the way each local council is
    funded is adaptable enough to cope with ups and
    downs over time and local emergencies.
  • Efficiency
  • Making sure the local council offers good value
    for money when delivering services to residents.
  • Adequacy
  • Making sure that government provides enough
    money from the centre to the local council, so
    that it can provide minimum services without
    overburdening local taxpayers.

The key principles - reactions to prompted options
  • In addition to the six key principles provided to
    respondents, transparency emerged as a very
    important principle
  • Other principles with high priority
  • Accountability
  • Fairness
  • However, as prioritisation of the key principles
    was completed at the end of the group
    discussions, there is likelihood that subjects
    and words, which emerged during the course of the
    evening, may have influenced peoples
  • Also differences occur in peoples interpretation
    of the meaning of the different principles, which
    again influence their prioritisation

It is difficult to know what these terms mean as
they mean different things to different people
(Grp 7, 18-25 yrs, female)
  • Although not listed as a key principle in the
    prompt material, throughout the groups, people
    intimate that it is critical for local
    authorities to be transparent about their actions
  • Money received/ handled
  • Service organisation
  • Service delivery
  • It is only through the council being open and
    honest that residents will engage with the local
    council and work with them to a common goal

Transparency is the key issue, you cant even
see the good things that the council does
(Grp 11, 18-25
yrs, male)
  • Accountability is frequently given top priority
  • People would like to see local councils being
    accountable to central government (checks
    balances), and to local residents (planned
    spending decisions)

Central government
It doesnt seem right that if theres a
mis-spending then the government just slap the
local councils wrists there is no
accountability (Grp 9, 50-60 yrs)
Checks balances
Local Authority
LA Accountability
At least we have someone to blame if something
goes wrong (Grp 4, 25-39 yrs)
Planned decision
You would feel better if you knew how the money
was spent (Grp 11, 18-25 yrs,
Local Residents
  • Efficiency is visible at the implementation stage
    of spending decisions and is interpreted as
  • Wise local council spending decisions
  • Avoidance of waste and absence of corruption
  • Ultimately, making sure things are actually
  • People report first hand experiences of local
    council efficiency and responsiveness e.g. when
    residents report problem with street lighting

If the councils end up in debt nothing really
happens, but if it happens to a business they
would go out of business. Its all about
mismanagement (Grp
9, 50-60 yrs)
Fairness Equalisation
  • Fairness Equalisation perceived to be
  • When needs are met in an equal and fair way
    across the country i.e. people get a fair share
    of money
  • Also, that a national standard for all major
    services (health, social services etc) is
    provided to all people across the country
  • Additional interpretations of the principle of
    Fairness are
  • Customised to individual needs
  • Council Tax is often seen as payment for specific