Council leaders respond to day one of Your Say survey

The Express & Star ensured council leaders are aware of your concerns about services.

WOLVERHAMPTON COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD 05/02/13 Wolverhampton Council leader Roger Lawrence reads the Express & Star 'Your Say' survey.
Wolverhampton Council leader Roger Lawrence reads the Express & Star Your Say survey.

We sent a dossier of the Your Say findings to leading figures across the West Midlands and Staffordshire.

In it we outline the results of each of the five days of questioning, together with an analysis of what the figures say.

Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, was among those to receive the Your Say dossier as was Councillor David Sparks of Dudley Council, Councillor Mike Bird of Walsall Council, Councillor Darren Cooper of Sandwell Council and Councillor George Adamson of Cannock Chase District Council.

He today welcomed the Express & Star’s initiative to discover how people in the region feel about important issues affecting their lives.

But, like other council leaders in the region, he was unable to give guarantees for the long term future of front line services such as libraries and community centres.

The E&S Your Say Survey reveals 58.3 per cent fear for the long term future of council facilities while 15.1 per cent are afraid they could close imminently.

As a newspaper our readers regularly turn to the Express & Star for help in exposing poor service or to air their concerns.

So it was encouraging to note the vast majority are satisfied with what their council does.

Just under 44 per cent of you were satisfied while 31 per cent went further and said their council’s overall service was good.

Only 17 per cent would go so far as to say services were poor or very poor.

Council leaders believe the figures show that most people will tend to voice negative opinions about public authorities but not speak up when they feel something has been done well.

At a time when councils are under financial pressure, they can be reassured that people in the region are generally content with the level of service they are being provided with at the current time, although there is clear room for improvement.

Cllr David Sparks takes a look at the Your Say survey results
Cllr David Sparks takes a look at the Your Say survey results

This general trend of satisfaction also relates to council facilities such as libraries and leisure centres, which are classed as “fair” by 49.3 per cent of people. Only 14.7 per cent of people would describe the facilities provided by their councils as “poor”.

But Councillor Sparks said these services will be protected and also enhanced to ensure a high quality of service for taxpayers.

"Our libraries are growing more popular each year because of the wide range of services they offer,” he said.

"Refuse and recycling collections are important to our residents as indicated in some of the priorities residents told us about through the Big Question consultation.

“Our budget for the next three years outlines expansions of these services to bring plastic and card recycling to all borough households and to also introduce wheelie bins for weekly refuse collections.

"The council has just set its three year budget plan and despite needing to make £27 million of savings over this time, we will continue to protect frontline services and ensure borough residents receive a quality service."

Councillor Lawrence said: “We do our own surveys and these figures are broadly in line with ours.

“We want 100 per cent of people to feel they are getting a good service but this is at least encouraging. I’m not surprised by the numbers who say they have not been in touch with their councillor. People only tend to get in touch when they have a problem.

“The impact of the cuts may not have been felt by many because we’ve been taking action and working hard to try to reduce the impact.”

Reading the Your Say survey is leader of Walsall council Mike Bird.
Reading the Your Say survey is leader of Walsall council Mike Bird.

Councillor Bird said: "I think this shows people do realise the efforts that go into doing the jobs that councils do.

"As councillors we get a lot of people who say 'we never see you' and I ask if they've had any problems and they say they haven't. We're there to help people when need us.

Walsall did come in for criticism over the way the council refused to empty the recycling bins of people who had "contaminated" their waste by putting non-recyclable items in their bins.

"I do think that was handled badly and the council was a bit draconian”, Councillor Bird said.

Councillor Adamson said that services had “had to give” as a result of major funding cuts.

Councillor George Adamson with the survey
Councillor George Adamson with the survey

He said: “People’s overall satisfaction with councils isn’t bad at all. Staffordshire County Council runs the libraries, but at Cannock Chase we’ve spent a lot of money recently on our leisure centres – the one in Rugeley is fairly new and the one in Cannock is currently being refurbished. We’ve had a lot of positive comments on that. “The reports we’ve had on our facilities have all been very good. I think people are generally satisfied.

“As far as spending cuts go, if they continue at the rate they are facilities will be affected – we’ve had a 20 per cent cut to our budget over the next two years. People who think services aren’t going to be affected if this continues are deluding themselves. You’ve only got to look at the state of the roads around Cannock Chase – the amount of potholes are because of the spending cuts.

“We’re not proposing any cuts to services this year, but if a further 20 pc is cut, something is going to have to give.

Sandwell leader Councillor Cooper praised the Express & Star’s initiative and said: "I think it is an excellent document, I think it complements what councils have done themselves in terms of surveys and reinforces that we are doing some things well, but there is still room for significant improvements.

"From my own point of view it appears that I am well in tune with local people on things like elected mayors and other issues.

"Certainly what I am doing is picking up some issues that people are not satisfied with to see if we can make some improvements."

"It is interesting that the impact of cuts have not fully filtered through and I would like to think in Sandwell that that is because we have been able to make savings from management and bureaucracy rather than frontline services.

Darren Cooper with the Express & Star Your Say survey at Sandwell Council House, Oldbury.
Darren Cooper with the Express & Star Your Say survey at Sandwell Council House, Oldbury.