My post yesterday about the Redbridge YouChoose site reminded me of some work I’d done looking at what services people thought were important.
Back in 2008 and 2009 we were required to conduct the Place Survey. Now abolished by the coalition government, the Place Survey was, very simply, a survey of people about the place they lived.
The most recent I could find was reported to the council in paper 09-823 (link to PDF). It makes interesting reading, not least because it seems to generally reflect the views of Redbridge residents. My recent interest in it was a result of my thinking about what it was that made Wandsworth Wandsworth. Why do people like it here and what do they like about it?
In some ways it isn’t that illuminating, because it doesn’t really give any unique answers. But it does provide some insight into what people think is important.
The 2009 Place Survey
They survey asked two questions that I’m particularly interested in for the purposes of this post:
Thinking generally, which of the things below would you are most important in making somewhere a good place to live?
And thinking about this local area, which of the things below, if any, do you think most need improving?
The list provided was fairly generic, covering things like transport, crime, parks and the like. The results for Wandsworth, inner and outer London are all fairly much aligned. While there are differences, there are no major differences that would point to a specific ‘Wandsworth’ mentality or issue that is a major problem here compared to elsewhere.
Where it’s a little less useful is in helping the council allocate its budget in the way that Redbridge’s does.
Crime: feelings and practice
For example, the most important thing in making an area a nice place to live is ‘The level of crime’ – 69% said that was an important factor (people could choose more than one) and 34% went on to say that it was something that needed improving (again, people could choose more than one).
When you look at the council’s budget on this (using the 2009-10 actual revenue expenditure) it only spent just over 2.6% of its revenue budget on this, around £5.5 million which went on the community safety division, youth offending team and graffiti removal. Odd, you might think, to spend relatively little on resident’s highest concern. But, of course, this reflects that the council is not the biggest player when it comes to crime, that’s the police. Additionally, there are roles for other public bodies to play – for example housing associations – when it comes to preventing and tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.
Health: feelings and practice
The inverse happens with health where 36% said health services were important and 13% said they needed improving. Effectively half as important. But this takes (using the adult care services figure) £84.4 million from the revenue budget – just under 41%, nearly twelve times as much as ‘crime’. And that’s only the start of it, on top you would have to add the huge budgets of the NHS!
Evidence of ‘imminence’ affecting people’s views?
What, of course, is interesting about these two examples is that they also deal with very different attitudes and services.
When you consider the adult care services budget large sums of that will be spent on a relatively small number of people with significant needs. The crime budget will largely be trying to address the fear of crime amongst a community in which the majority of whom, thankfully, will never be a victim of crime in their lifetime.
Oddly, for many answering it’s probably more likely that they would eventually need some sort of care provision from the council or NHS than they would need the services of the council’s community safety team because they’d been a victim of crime. However, for many their responses would have been driven by the feeling that they could be a victim of crime at any time, but are unlikely to have imminent need of health services.
Does this help at all?
Does this help the council in setting the budget? I’m not sure it does, and I’ll give two reasons why.
First, we have no choice about a lot of this spending. This is especially true when it comes to spending on things like social services. While we can look at making our spending more cost effective, in many cases we are legally obliged to provide a service and we cannot cut it.
Second, there has to be an element of strategic thought in this. While that might be there in the Redbridge exercise, I don’t think it is here. Indeed, it’s telling that the majority of the top factors in making somewhere a good place are what I would call ‘doorstep’ issues, basically the things that strike you when you walk out your front door in the morning: is the transport working? are the streets clean?
And it certainly doesn’t get anyone any closer to working out why people like their particular borough.
[The data I used in this post are at jamescousins.com/data.]