Surveys highlight role of ambassadors in helping to maintain public confidence in local services

Two recent surveys have highlighted the importance of perception management in the delivery of public services as the cumulative effects of ongoing reductions in local authority budgets take hold. Despite suggestions that there has been no noticeable decline in local services after five years of spending cuts, public confidence in front-line services is looking increasingly fragile as the continued lack of investment becomes more obvious.

A major survey of Council personnel who work out in the heart of local communities, undertaken by NSL, has highlighted the growing importance of the ambassadorial role of Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) as antisocial behaviour, litter blight and damage to roads and pavements continue to be major causes of concern. And, Ben Page, the Chief Executive of IPSOS Mori, has warned against complacency as a recent survey undertaken by the market-leading research company highlights the impact of the cumulative effects of spending cuts on public perceptions.

“Protecting and improving front-line services in the wake of ever-tighter budget restrictions is the key challenge for any local authority,” says Mark Hoskin, NSL’s Executive Director for Local Government. “But that’s not all. It’s also vital to manage expectations and perceptions to ensure local communities continue to value and have confidence in the local services they receive. And that’s something which won’t happen by accident and for which there is no additional funding. It’s just up to local authorities to harness their existing resources as fully as possible – and that means Council personnel working out in the heart of local communities have a very important role as front-line ambassadors. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the area of civil enforcement, where patrolling and uniformed Council representatives are now often performing a wide range of duties.”

Mr Hoskin believes well trained CEOs are now also providing a very reassuring presence in many local areas as budget cuts beyond local government have resulted in a less visible presence of local emergency services.

“The IPSOS Mori survey shows that the perception of local police services, for example, has worsened despite a fall in reported crime, and that concern about future policing is at its highest level since 2002,” he adds. “So a local authority’s CEO is also filling a very important void in the welfare of local communities – from providing helpful advice, deterring antisocial behaviour and reporting issues with Council equipment to their principal role in encouraging compliance and helping to keep traffic flowing and streets safe. Our own survey demonstrates this shift of emphasis, with nearly 75% of CEOs now considering themselves to be ambassadors of the Council – a far cry from the work of yesteryear’s traffic wardens.”

NSL’s 2015 Civil Enforcement Officer Opinion Survey was undertaken in tandem with the British Parking Association, with feedback from 47 local authority teams and a response rate well in excess of 60%.

“The survey shines a light on the importance of a previously under-rated resource,” adds Dave Smith, Head of Public Affairs and Research at the British Parking Association. “Today’s CEO is providing an invaluable service for local communities and can really make the difference when it comes to helping to protect public perceptions and manage expectations in the delivery of local services. They are now not just the eyes and ears of the Council. In many respects, they are a reassuring face and, more often than not, are safeguarding the heartbeat of a local community.”