By Claire West

Taxpayers want councillors to make decisions about reductions in local public spending, a new survey published this week has revealed.

An opinion poll by ComRes for the Local Government Association has revealed the areas of public spending people think should be protected, those they think should be cut and who they want to decide on cuts to local services. It is published on the eve of the LGA Group’s annual conference in Bournemouth where more than 1,200 delegates will gather for the biggest debate about the future of public services since the general election.

The survey reveals that 62 per cent of people would prefer local councillors to make decisions about public spending in their local area compared to 18 per cent who backed MPs and two per cent who said officials in quangos. It also shows that 70 per cent of respondents believe that spending on some services should be protected, even if this has an impact on spending in other areas. Taxpayers also think NHS managers, quangos and overseas aid are the top three areas where cuts should be made to save money.

The main services people said they wanted to be protected from cuts were:

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff (56 per cent)
Police (35 per cent)
Schools (29 per cent)
Fire service (29 per cent)
Care for the elderly by social services (28 per cent)

The areas respondents said they thought should be cut to save public money were:

NHS managers (69 per cent)
Quangos (57 per cent)
Overseas aid (49 per cent)
Benefit payments (34 per cent)
Defence (14 per cent)

Just one per cent respectively thought street cleaning, care for the elderly by social services and rubbish collections should be cut to save public money.

The services people regard as being frontline are:

Police (84 per cent)

Fire service (81 per cent)

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff (80 per cent)

Schools (59 per cent)

Care for the elderly by social services (49 per cent)

Rubbish collection (44 per cent)

Help for disabled people by social services (43 per cent)

Child protection (40 per cent)

Only one per cent regard quangos as a frontline public service. The survey also shows that almost three quarters of people (74 per cent) believe frontline services will be hit by cuts.

Ministers have pledged to embark upon a consultation with people across the public sector ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn.

Dame Margaret Eaton, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said:

“Councils provide vital front line services upon which millions of people rely. Ministers need to recognise that when detailed decisions on spending are made in the autumn. It is clear that the public want to see important frontline services protected, but are willing to rein in the quango state and remove unnecessary tiers of middle management to bring the deficit down.

“These figures are a vote of confidence in town halls. People trust their local councillors to make tough decisions about spending in their area more than they trust national politicians. As the democratically elected voice of local people, councils should be at the centre of deciding on spending in their area.

“Councils are in the vanguard of reforming the public sector and will work with the Government to ensure that savings will be made by pruning out the maze of quangos, middlemen, bureaucratic funding streams and audit arrangements, rather than salami slicing services that the most vulnerable people depend on. We need nothing less than a transformation of the way the public sector works to deliver savings by giving power to the people who know their areas best.”