Large majority ‘do not trust Government to act in interests of communities’

A large majority of people do not trust the Government or national media to act in the interests of their communities, according to research.

Ahead of local elections on May 2 and a general election expected this year, a survey by Ipsos found just 25% of people over 18 in England have faith in ministers to act in the best interest of people in their local area, while 26% feel the same way about large media outlets.

The research commissioned by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) also found 57% of people believe local councils have the biggest influence on the quality of life in their community, compared with 14% for the Parliament at Westminster.

Local councillors are trusted more to act in the interests of people in local areas than other politicians, but they are not trusted as widely as police (55%), community groups (68%) and local businesses (61%).

The poll found trust in all public institutions to act in local people’s interests had fallen, with 57% having little faith in local MPs and 53% in the civil service.

This scepticism coincides with negative opinions about local services. Nearly half (48%) of respondents said local services have worsened over the last five years, but the proportion rises to three in five (61%) among people aged 55 to 75.

Of those who think public services are getting worse, more than half placed a “great deal” of the blame with the UK Government (53%), with just over a third holding local councils responsible.

The research also found that improvements in services are widely credited to local councils and community groups.

The annual survey also provides insight into voter perceptions of local government and their understanding of its role and processes.

Some 62% of people said they want to know more about how local decisions are made, but just one in 10 said they want to be actively involved.

However, 45% supported responsibility for local decision making being shared between local residents and decision makers with relevant expertise.

LGIU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West said: “It is depressing, if not altogether surprising, that the majority of the public lack faith in MPs, the Government, and many other public institutions to act in their best interests locally.

“People see public services in their area getting worse and they are not confident that anyone is going to address this or look after their interests.

“It is risky to simply accept this as part of life. Declining trust in our institutions is corrosive to positive civic life and has the potential to thwart any regeneration or renewal.

“Restoring public trust should be a priority for all elected officials. That can, and must, begin with local government.”

Cameron Garrett, research manager at Ipsos, said the findings clearly show widespread recognition of the importance of local government.

He added: “In this context it is then perhaps unsurprising that there is support for more decision making to happen at the local level.

“However, outcomes are still key, with people prioritising the right decision being made and still wanting to incorporate decision makers with expertise.

“Certainly, the public are not impressed with current outcomes with nearly half saying the quality of local services has worsened over the past five years, and trust declining across nearly all stakeholders to act in the best interests of local people.”

Ipsos interviewed  1,837 adults between April 5 and 8. The data has been weighted to reflect the adult population of England.