As the public sector enters a period of financial belt-tightening and difficult decisions, a new poll of leaders drawn from central and local government, non-departmental public bodies and the health and education sectors by Ipsos MORI reveals deep concern about the impact of the cuts.
Budget cuts are – by some distance – seen as the most important issues facing the public sector. Two-thirds of public sector leaders say that these are the most important issue facing their sector (64%).
More specifically, nearly two-thirds of senior managers and directors within the public sector (63%) do not think that the government’s policies will improve the state of public services in the long term, and concern is particularly pronounced within the health and education sectors.
However, while there is clear unease at the pace of change within the public sector, there is support for the substance of the government’s proposed reforms. Overall, leaders are split on whether they agree with the government’s objectives and priorities for their sectors (38% of those who believe they understand the government’s objectives agree, 35% disagree), but underlying this there is a great deal of support for greater public control of services and more autonomy for local providers. Indeed, seven in ten leaders think that people and local service providers should have more control over how public services are provided locally (70% and 73% respectively).
There is also some support for the government’s flagship Big Society idea: those who think it will be a good thing for their sector outnumber those who think it will be a bad thing by three to one, although a similar proportion think it will make no difference. (Though it should be noted that fieldwork took place before the riots in England and the greater prominence this has given to plans to fix Britain’s ‘broken society’.) The local government sector, central to the success of the concept, is the most supportive of the Big Society (46% of those who say they know of the Big Society think it will be a good thing). This suggests that the government may yet find itself able to bring along public service leaders in its drive to implement wide-ranging reforms amid economic gloom.
However, support for the government’s ideas varies within the public sector. Although those in local government have embraced the principle of local control (82% think that local service providers should have more control), a significant minority of central government leaders (22%) remain unconvinced that local service providers should have more control over how public services are provided locally.
Helen Cleary, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI said: “While there is clearly support for many of the principles underlying the government’s reforms, as the spectre of cuts hardens into reality and continues to dominate the minds of leaders it will remain difficult to convince them that public services can emerge unscathed."
The Ipsos MORI Public Sector Leaders Survey is an omnibus survey of chief executives, directors and senior managers in the public sector. The Summer 2011 survey is based on a total of 338 respondents from five sectors (base sizes in brackets): central government (51), local government (100), education (52), health (102) and non-department public bodies (33). Fieldwork took place using computer-aided telephone interviewing (CATI) between 27 June and 22 July 2011. The data has not been weighted.