Public Services; The Final Verdict From The People's Panel

This week saw the publication of the final wave of research from the People's Panel, the survey for the Cabinet Office which MORI has been conducting since 1998 and which the government decided to wind up earlier this year. The survey measures use of and satisfaction with a wide range of public services, and how well informed the public feels about them.

This week saw the publication of the final wave of research from the People's Panel, the survey for the Cabinet Office which MORI has been conducting since 1998 and which the government decided to wind up earlier this year. The survey measures use of and satisfaction with a wide range of public services, and how well informed the public feels about them.

As was widely reported in the press yesterday, the survey found a fall in satisfaction with many of those services since the first tranche of research four years ago. However, irrespective of changes in the satisfaction levels, it should not be forgotten that satisfaction levels with most public services are high, and that those satisfied with each service comfortably outnumber those dissatisfied. The state of public services in Britain is by no means as dire as the impression that is sometimes given. That said, any deterioration in satisfaction is of course worrying for a government, especially one that has so committed itself as has this one to improvement of public services as its primary goal.

The table below includes only those services with which satisfaction was measured in both 1998 and 2002. Satisfaction is reported as net scores (that is, the percentage "very dissatisfied" or "fairly dissatisfied" subtracted from the number "very satisfied" or "fairly satisfied"). Those questioned on each service were users of that service except in the case of those considered "universal services" (marked with an (a)), in which the entire sample were included. (Note that for those services marked with an asterisk, the question wording used in 1998 was different, in some cases significantly so.)

Q How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the quality of ...?

160 1998 Wave 1 2000 Wave 5 2002 Wave 6 Change W1 to W6
160 Net satisfied Net satisfied Net satisfied 160
Base: All/service users +% +% +% 160
Local Bus Service +38 +44 +43 +5
Local Adult Education* +73 +80 +77 +4
Local Primary Schools +83 +83 +85 +2
Refuse/ Waste Collection Services* (a) +79 +80 +81 +2
Parks and Open Spaces* +69 +71 +71 +2
Your GP +85 +87 +85 0
Libraries +84 +85 +82 -2
Local Nursery Schools/Classes +78 +75 +73 -5
Recycling Facilities +67 +71 +62 -5
Inland Revenue +53 +48 +48 -5
Street cleaning (a) +39 +34 +34 -5
NHS Hospitals +69 +71 +62 -7
Local Secondary Schools +74 +71 +65 -9
Your local Council (a) +34 +27 +25 -9
Street lighting (a) +64 +63 +54 -10
Train Companies +32 +36 +17 -15
Youth Clubs and Other Facilities for Young People* +41 +32 +21 -20
Police (a) +63 +49 +38 -25
Council Housing Service* +52 +30 +22 -30

Source: MORI *In 1998, question referred to "Adult education", "refuse collection", "public parks", "youth and community centres" and "council housing" respectively. (a) - universal service, based on all respondents

The services are ranked by the change since 1998, and the first point to note is that in the majority of cases there has been no statistically significant change over the last four years. However, some of those for which there has been a significant fall in satisfaction are politically very sensitive.

The biggest satisfaction fall among the universal services has been with the Police: in 1998, 73% of the public were satisfied and 11% dissatisfied; in 2000, 62% satisfied and 13% dissatisfied; this year, only 53% are satisfied and 16% dissatisfied.

160 160

Q I am going to read out a number of different types of services. Using this card, I would like you to tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the quality of each.

160 Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Neither Fairly dissatisfied Very dissatisfied No opinion
160 % % % % % %
Police
1998 27 46 13 8 3 3
2000 19 43 16 10 3 8
2002 15 38 20 12 4 11

This trend of falling satisfaction with the quality of the police matches other MORI surveys on the same subject for various clients over the last couple of years, and should perhaps evince no surprise. Nevertheless, of all public service issues law and order is perhaps the one on which the government will feel most vulnerable, since it is a traditional area of Tory strength and hence possibly one on which disillusioned voters might consider the Conservatives a credible alternative. It is therefore important to note that although the net satisfaction has fallen precipitately, this has occurred mainly through falling satisfaction rather than rising dissatisfaction, the main increases being in those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied or with no opinion of the Police.

The opposite is true of another of the big fallers, the train companies. Here the increase in those users dissatisfied (from 21% to 31%) has been bigger than the fall in the number satisfied (53% to 49%). The fall has been almost entirely between 2000 and 2002, with little change between 1998 and 2000. Furthermore, it should be remembered that these figures may slightly understate any increase in dissatisfaction, since only rail users are surveyed: anybody who has become so dissatisfied as to switch to other forms of transport would not be included in the figures.

160 160

Q I am going to read out a number of different types of services. Using this card, I would like you to tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the quality of each.

160 160 Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Neither Fairly dissatisfied Very dissatisfied No opinion
Base: 160 % % % % % %
160 Train companies
2839 1998 10 43 21 16 5 5
611 2000 8 50 17 16 6 3
563 2002 8 41 17 22 9 4

Motorists, too, are presumably suffering, as road maintenance and repairs is the single service scoring worst in the survey, although there has been no significant change since 2000. (The subject was not included in the 1998 survey).

160 160

Q How satisfied or dissatisfied are you overall with ...?

160 Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Neither Fairly dissatisfied Very dissatisfied No opinion
160 % % % % % %
Your local authority's road maintenance and repairs
2000 5 34 13 29 17 3
2002 5 36 12 29 17 1

On a brighter note, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of users satisfied with their local bus service - two in three now say they are either fairly or very satisfied, giving bus services the best net increase in satisfaction of the services measured in all three surveys.

On the health service, the public service about which the public is consistently most concerned, satisfaction remains substantially higher with GPs than with hospitals, and the gap has widened. On ambulance services (not separately measured in 1998 but included in the 2000 survey), net satisfaction is lower still but this is purely because so many of the public have no opinion or express themselves neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, presumably because they have not had to call upon the service; although the proportion satisfied has fallen since 2000, this may simply reflect lower usage. Just 1% of the public say they are dissatisfied with ambulance services, plainly an excellent figure. Meanwhile 6% are dissatisfied with their GP and 13% with NHS hospitals.

Away from the core national services, satisfaction has also fallen with local councils, although in this case the rate of decline was at least slowed over the last two years. Under half the public are now satisfied with the quality of their local council, and one in five are dissatisfied. (One is tempted to suggest, in the light of the very poor turnouts in local elections in recent years, that if members of the public are not satisfied with their councils perhaps they should make a little time on the first Thursday of May to do something about it.)

160 160

Q I am going to read out a number of different types of services. Using this card, I would like you to tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the quality of each.

160 Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Neither Fairly dissatisfied Very dissatisfied No opinion
160 % % % % % %
Your local Council
1998 9 44 26 12 6 3
2000 7 43 22 16 8 4
2002 6 41 26 14 7 7

In 1998, satisfaction with local councils correlated with social class: the higher the social class, generally the less positive people were about their council. This does not apply now. Against the overall trend since 1998, satisfaction has increased by 9 points among ABs (from 46% to 55%). In contrast, satisfaction has decreased by 13 points among DEs (57% to 44%). This shift is consistent with sub-groups on other national surveys, and perhaps reflects raised expectations among core Labour voters after the election, which have yet to be met.

One aspect of local authority responsibility where there has been a marked fall in satisfaction is council housing services - perhaps very pertinent to consider in the week it was reported that the government is to end right-to-buy for council tenants. Satisfaction has fallen 11 points since 2000, and 24 points since 1998 (although some of the change between 1998 and 2000 may be due to a change in question wording, as the question now asks about "your local authority's council housing service" rather than simply "council housing"). Over the last two years, there has not been any corresponding rise in dissatisfaction, but the number who were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied trebled.

160 160

Q How satisfied or dissatisfied are you overall with ...?

160 160 Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Neither Fairly dissatisfied Very dissatisfied No opinion
Base 160 % % % % % %
160 Your local authority's council housing service
740 1998* 23 49 6 11 9 1
168 2000 12 48 6 15 15 4
165 2002 8 41 19 15 13 4

*In 1998, question referred "council housing".

All in all, although there are some reassuring figures in the survey, the trend in satisfaction with public services seems to be downwards, which is ominous for the government. Furthermore, as the separate MORI Delivery Index surveys have shown, there is more pessimism than optimism among the public about the government's ability to achieve improvement.

 

MORI conducted 1,044 interviews with members of the People's Panel between 2nd March and 7th May 2002. The results have been weighted to the profile of all adults in the UK.

 

160 160

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