Survey says potholes and crime are top priorities for council but Trading Standards, adult learning and environmental services can be cut

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TACKLING crime and potholes should be the top priorities for Bucks County Council, according to a survey of more than 5,000 people.

The survey found that two out of every three residents think that the council is doing a good job, given the tough financial climate, with particular praise for tips and household recycling centres, parks and open spaces and schools.

However, large scale criticism of the county’s roads will come as no surprise to chiefs at county hall, who have earmarked extra money to fill in potholes.

The independent customer survey, which will be used by the council to identify priority areas for its dwindling budget, was carried out by Ipsos MORI at a cost of £30,000.

It found that 70 per cent respondents considered roads maintenance to be very important, but that Trading Standards, environmental services and adult learning courses were the least worthy of taxpayers’ money.

Overall satisfaction with the council (42 per cent) was down by six per cent from the previous comparable survey carried out in 2009.

Martin Phillips, cabinet member for community engagement, said: “With the continuing recession, this was always going to be a challenging time to carry out such a survey. But we wanted local people’s honest views and opinions to help shape what we should be focusing on in the future and where best to direct our scarce resources.

“At a national level, we are seeing satisfaction with local councils declining. I’m sure this directly reflects the difficult financial conditions facing the public sector at the moment. The challenge for us is to reverse this situation. It’s reassuring that local people think we are doing a good job, given the current difficulties but more importantly the responses give us clear messages for our future direction.

“I’m pleased that in the main, users of many of our key services expressed their satisfaction.

“That said, we are very much aware of people’s general dissatisfaction with our roads, particularly after the harsh winters of previous years. This is precisely why the council recently decided to increase its investment in road repairs over the coming year.

“With the work we have planned I am sure local people will soon begin to see visible improvements.”

The survey also found that the vast majority of people still rely on newspapers such as The Bucks Herald for unbiased updates on council services, despite the proliferation of taxpayer funded council newsletters and magazines.

Their survey says...

* IMPORTANT SERVICES TO INDIVIDUALS: 70 per cent of respondents said the condition of the roads was important to them personally, followed by tackling crime and anti-social behaviour (67 per cent) and parks and open spaces (50 per cent). Trading standards (8 per cent) and adult learning courses (10 per cent) were considered the least important personally.

* IMPORTANT SERVICES TO THE COMMUNITY: Tackling crime (67 per cent), condition of the roads (49 per cent) and schools (46 per cent) were seen as the most vital services for society-at-large, with adult learning (10 per cent) the least important.

* DUMPS GOOD, POTHOLES BAD: People were most satisfied with tips and household recycling centres (86 per cent were either very or fairly satisfied), followed by parks and open spaces (79 per cent) and schools (63 per cent). The area of most dissatisfaction was roads maintenance (70 per cent very or fairly dissatisfied), followed by gritting (58 per cent) and pavements maintenance (53 per cent).

* OVERALL: 42 per cent of people were satisfied with the way the council runs things, 25 per cent dissatisfied and 34 per cent neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. 66 per cent of people thought the council was doing a good job in a tough economic climate and half thought it dealt with complaints effectively. However, 63 per cent disagreed that the council listened to the concerns of residents.

* ROAD MAINTENANCE: Opinion was split on whether the council should maintain busy roads above all others or maintain all roads but to a lower standard. However, 61 per cent of respondents thought the council should concentrate on fixing fewer potholes but with longer lasting, more expensive resurfacing repairs, rather than delivering a larger number of less expensive but more short term repairs.

* SAFETY: 63 per cent of people said they felt safe in their local area after dark, with 21 per cent feeling unsafe. 92 per cent felt safe in their area during the day.

* TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT: Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour was the area that most people (76 per cent) felt was the most unacceptable for the council to make cuts to, followed by roads maintenance (64 per cent) and schools (56 per cent). The services people thought it would be most acceptable to cut were adult learning courses (48 per cent), Trading Standards (44 per cent) and services aimed at protecting the environment (44 per cent).

* NEWSPAPERS VITAL FOR INFORMATION: Nearly 60 per cent of people find out about councils and other public service providers from newspapers such as The Bucks Herald, making them by far the most popular medium, while a further 25 per cent get it from local news websites including www.bucksherald.co.uk

A quarter of respondents get information directly from council websites. Only three per cent got it from social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

* VOLUNTEERING: The three things which would most encourage people to volunteer in their community were having more information on roles that were available, flexible hours and a small time commitment. However, 10 per cent of people said nothing would encourage them.

* PROFILE OF RESPONDENTS: More than 5,000 people filled in the survey between September and December 2011.

39 per cent of respondents were over 55 years old, while only 21 per cent were aged from 18 to 34.

More than 60 per cent were in some form of work, with a quarter retired.

* COST: The survey cost £30,000, which includes design, distribution and analysis. The cost works out to the equivalent of 6p per resident.