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Will the incumbency factor dent Labour's gains on Thursday?

We often hear complaints that people vote in local elections according to their views on national issues. Many people do. But what of those, there must be some, who vote on local issues?

This factor could well be difficult for Labour where many of those who might be inclined to vote Labour in a General Election fell that there Conservative-run county council is doing a pretty good job.

Usually councils carry out opinion polling - annual "Satisfaction Surveys" or "Reputational Surveys". I used to denounce this as a waste of money.

Shouldn't councillors be knocking on doors and finding out what residents think through that method? They should, of course.

It is also right that there is no longer a requirement for councils to spend money on these annual surveys.

However I now feel that it is right for councils to choose to do so. These surveys are worth the money. They cost a fraction of all the data requirements that the Audit Commission used to impose. They also shift the focus of councils. Instead of concerning themselves with what bureaucrats think of them, they have an objective measure of what their residents think.

Anyway I wonder if they offer any clues for how the elections will go.

Let us consider Nottinghamshire County Council.

I found this reporting from the survey held in October:

Just under two thirds (63%) of respondents across Nottinghamshire are satisfied with the way the Nottinghamshire County Council runs things (14% very satisfied and 49% fairly satisfied), increasing from 47% in 2011 (Citizens’ Panel Survey) and 40% in 2008 (Place Survey). Just 16% were dissatisfied.

When it came to value for money the change is even more substantial. In 2008 there were 18% who felt the council provided value for money. By last October it was 47%.

Until 2009 the council was Labour-run. Even allowing for technical differences in polling of margin of error, the results seem pretty emphatic. Nottinghamshire residents feel the Conservatives are doing a better job running their county council than Labour were.

Or Staffordshire County Council where the satisfaction rate from local residents has increased from 41% under Labour in 2008 to 62% under the Conservatives in a survey last year.

There has generally been an increase in resident satisfaction with council services in England since 2010 while spending has been cut. Yet the figures from Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire look particularly impressive although I haven't seen results for other counties.

Another advantage, or potential advantage, of incumbency is provided by the individual local councillors. In Staffordshire, which Labour certainly need to gain on Thursday to reflect their opinion poll lead, there are only three Labour councillors against 50 Conservatives. So it is not jusst a matter of Labour putting their effort into one or two target wards. They have to spread their effort across the county where there are (one hopes) hard workiing sitting Conservative councillors who have got well dug in over the lastt four years.


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