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Good quality services are top of the list for communities in the Northern regions according to research out today, conducted for The Boundary Committee for England.
Swiftly approaching mid-term of a major review of local government structures in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions, the Committee asked MORI* to find out peoples' views about local government and how they identify with their local community.
Following a direction by the Government on 17 June, the Committee was asked to recommend a minimum of two options for a single tier of local government in those areas where there are both district and county councils. The local government arrangements in six counties in the north of England are under review: Cheshire, Cumbria, County Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, and North Yorkshire. The Committee has been asked to report its findings to the Government no later than 25 May 2004. People will then be asked to decide in a referendum if they want an elected regional assembly, with those in two tier areas making a further decision on which option of unitary local government they would prefer if a regional assembly is established.
The first stage of the review ended on 8 September and the Committee is now considering all of the submissions received, looking closely at how the needs of local communities will be met through efficient service delivery across all local authority services. The MORI findings will prove valuable as one of a number of factors taken into consideration when drafting the recommendations, due to be published on 1 December for consultation.
The comprehensive research, a mixture of qualitative and quantitative analysis, was conducted in each of the 44 districts in the 6 counties under review. Some 13,500 people were asked their views about how they identify with existing communities, their neighbourhoods and local government. As well as the provision of quality services, the responsiveness of authorities to local peoples' wishes was also considered of high importance.
Significantly, even though people enjoyed talking about their area and community, more than half said they knew little or nothing about local councils and the services they provide. In terms of sense of community, interviewees were asked about how they identified with their neighbourhood, town, district or borough and county council area. Some people in MORI's qualitative research felt an affinity with historic county names, such as Cheshire and County Durham. Others identified strongly with the name of 'Yorkshire', rather than 'North Yorkshire', less people identified with the names of individual districts. Additionally, local linkages were explored and initial reactions to how people might be directly affected by possible changes in structure. In all areas, MORI found that people identify most strongly with communities within existing local authority boundaries, although they did not necessarily associate as strongly with their local councils.
To gain a 'sense of place', interviewees were asked about where they went for their shopping, leisure activities, their place of work or where parents take their children to school. In Chester for example, over 80% of people stayed within their district for clothes and household goods shopping. In Castle Morpeth in Northumberland however, only 4% used the local shopping facilities for the same purpose. In Lancaster, over three quarters of those interviewed used the local leisure facilities within the Lancaster City Council area.
In MORI's qualitative research, concerns were raised over the size of proposed unitary authorities. Some felt that if they were too big they may not have adequate local representation, but if they were too small they could be ineffective and lack the resources to meet local needs. Across the research program, the delivery of quality services sensitive to local needs was a key concern.
The Boundary Committee Chair, Pamela Gordon said, 'The research produced by MORI has provided us with some useful insights into attitudes and behaviour patterns in those communities being reviewed.
'We shall take these findings into account, along with the information, arguments and evidence provided in the submissions by local authorities. All this material will enable us to make well-informed recommendations for unitary local government in these areas, which consider the fundamental needs of local communities. After we have published our draft proposals on 1 December we hope for a wide response from members of the public as well as statutory bodies'.
Recently, the Committee has just finished a tour in the two-tier areas in the six counties being reviewed. Working in conjunction with representatives from both county and district councils, Committee members were able to gain a good geographical and topographical overview of how communities and areas fit with each other. They were also pleased to see evidence of councils working together to serve the best interests of local communities, which will contribute to their understanding of the issues when making their draft recommendations in December.
Senior Press Officer, Charmaine Colvin: Tel: 020 7271 0700/07887 626 774
Assistant Press Officer, Elise Cross: 020 7271 0530
Research Director, Simon Atkinson: Tel: 020 7347 3242
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