Dustmen on top in popularity stakes

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The Independent Online
Refuse collectors emerge as the most popular council employees in the latest report on attitudes to council services for the National Consumer Council. More than 90 per cent of people are satisfied with rubbish collection - an improvement of 10 per cent in four years.

Satisfaction with council services has improved since the NCC last asked people in 1991. In this year's Mori poll more than 6 out of 10 are satisfied with the overall quality in service compared with about half four years ago. However, only 4 in 10 believe local authorities offer good value for money and only half feel their councils keep them well-informed.

Since 1991, consumer approval of the quality of local council services has risen by 10 per cent. Scotland and the Midlands are the most satisfied regions whereas the North is the least satisfied.

Road maintenance had the highest jump in approval - 13 per cent - but 43 per cent still registered satisfaction. Street lighting and library facilities have higher rates of approval.

These improvements have to be balanced against the relatively high levels of dissatisfaction in other areas. One in four consumers is unhappy with the state of parks and playgrounds and more than one-third are dissatisfied with street cleaning.

People who have direct experience of using a service tend to view it more positively. Eight out of 10 people with children aged five to 10 are satisfied with primary schools compared with just more than 50 per cent of the general population. The findings on secondary schools are similar.

The general increase in positive views about the quality of services is reflected in the higher proportion of people agreeing that councils give value for money. In 1991 almost as many agreed (35 per cent) as disagreed (36 per cent) that councils gave good value. Today, 40 per cent agree - 9 per cent more than disagree, but still less than a majority.

As in 1991, the majority (60 per cent) said they had contacted their council in the past two years. Council and social housing tenants are the largest group, and those least likely to complain are 18- to 25-year- olds. A quarter contact their council to make a complaint compared with one in six seeking information. Of those who would not make a complaint, a quarter say that their views would not make any difference, and 1 in 20 had complained before and felt it had not done any good.

People feel councils keep them better informed. The proportion of people who feel well informed about services and benefits has increased from one-third (35 per cent) in 1991 to a half (52 per cent) this year.

Lady Wilcox, the NCC chairwoman, said: "We are pleased more consumers are feeling happy with council services but there is clearly room for improvement. Councillors cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Only half of those questioned felt their council kept them well informed.

"This is a marked improvement on the situation four years ago - but the momentum must continue. Councils need to keep in touch with local people and be properly accountable to consumers who have little or no choice about using and paying for local authority services."

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