Council survey shows wide variation in satisfaction

SCOTLAND’s councils have published a raft of new data covering everything from local views on schools to streets and housing, revealing significant differences in levels of satisfaction and service across the country.

The new ‘benchmarking data’, published last week, confirms that – as previous surveys showed – the highest satisfaction levels are in the island regions of Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles.

Lowest satisfaction rates are in Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, and Aberdeenshire although even here, seven out of ten people say they are content with the way local authority services are being delivered.

Council leaders insist they are not trying to create “league tables” but say the aim of releasing the information is to show where best practice exists in order to push up standards across the country. The experience of councils with the best performance rates may then be applied to those who are under performing.

As well as satisfaction ratings, the data shines a light on many other areas of local authority work.

Council staff in East Dunbartonshire took the most sick days in 2011-12 with an average of 13.5 days, nearly double the number of Clackmannanshire, where staff too just 7.5 days.

A similar disparity is shown up in figures revealing how much is spent collecting council tax. South Ayrshire is the most thrifty, spending just £6.64 per house, compared to Dundee, which spends £20.37.

The figures show even bigger disparities in housing. While 89 per cent of Clackmannan homes met housing quality standards, the figure in Renfrewshire was 15 per cent.

The survey also showed the cleanest streets are in rural Dumfries and Galloway. In contrast, urban swathes of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverclyde, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire are the dirtiest places to live.

The information was made available by the Improvement Service last week, a body which seeks to drive up standards within councils.

The satisfaction ratings are drawn from the most recent Scottish Household Survey of 2010-11 and rate eight different service areas for each local authority.

In five of those categories, Shetland received the highest satisfaction rating of all 32 councils in Scotland. It also had the second highest satisfaction ratings for schools, behind Orkney, and the second highest for social care, behind the Western Isles.

The only mainland council achieving a first satisfaction rating was East Renfrewshire, for its parks and open spaces.

Unsurprisingly, people in Edinburgh and Glasgow recorded high satisfaction ratings with the cultural wealth in their cities, rating museums and galleries very highly.

Of all council services, people were least happy with the quality of social care and social work. In Aberdeen, only 49 per cent of people said they were satisfied with social care.

It is not the first time Shetland has come top in a satisfaction survey. A 2011 study found it had the highest quality of life in Scotland, with islanders living longer and healthier lives than people in most parts of the country.

Leader of the Shetland Islands Council, Gary Robertson, put the high satisfaction levels down to the strong investment over the years, boosted by oil funds issued to the Shetland Charitable Trust.

“It’s fair to say that over the years we have been able to spend a lot more on services in the island. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we invested a lot on infrastructure,” he said.

He added: “We are only recently beginning to look at things that other councils have had to charge for quite some time.”

The chair of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives Elma Murray said the aim of the new data mine was to allow councils to compare and contrast.

She said: “We will establish ‘families’ of councils with comparable social and geographical characteristics which will allow us to embed the practice of benchmarking against each other as a tool to drive improvement.”

Ronnie Hinds, the chief executive of Fife Council, who has led the project, said: “We recognise that when we release this information for the first time, people might look at it in a simple way as a league table. But we have to go through that in order to get to a different discussion.”

Twitter: @EddieBarnes23