Watson in bid to scrap household survey

ANY elected member of Scottish Borders Council worth his or her salt should be aware of the concerns of constituents without the need for a costly household survey.

That is the view of Borders Party leader Nicholas Watson who wants the research, carried out on behalf of his local authority by a private firm, scrapped.

“It is a total waste of public money which tells us what we, as councillors, should know already if we are even half in touch with our electorate,” said Councillor Watson.

At its meeting today, SBC will consider the results of the 2010 exercise, which cost nearly £16,000 to carry out and runs, including appendices, to 200 pages.

A small working group of councillors, including Mr Watson, was formed in 2009 to decide the future of such surveys which have been held annually since 2006.

A contract, previously awarded to a Carlisle company which charged £21,250 each year, was put out to tender on the basis that surveys should, from 2010, be carried out every two years. The new contract was given to Cumbuslang-based Research Resource who surveyed 6,000 residents in July last year.

Just 43 per cent (2,400) responded to the region-wide postal questionnaire, although a report from SBC’s business consultant Claire Malster contended that this return was “statistically significant to a good level ... and results can be used with confidence”.

“The survey provides the council with indicators of customer satisfaction ... and is a key mechanism for measuring performance against agreed local outcome indicators and has informed internal working,” she added.

The 2010 survey asked for views of life in the Borders, customer contact with SBC, community safety, internet access, shopping habits and local decision making.

The executive summary revealed that 90 per cent of Borderers were satisfied with their neighbourhood as a place to live, ranging from 88 per cent in Teviot to 93 per cent in Tweeddale. However, 18 per cent felt it had got worse over the past three years, with 9 per cent believing it was better.

The most important neighbourhood priorities for respondents were making the region a safer place to live, work and visit, supporting local retailers and businesses and freezing council tax.

Satisfaction among the 55 per cent who had contacted SBC in the previous 12 months was high in relation to the helpfulness of staff, but fell with regard to final outcomes.

Asked about winter maintenance, 60 per cent were satisfied with the proportion of roads treated and the effectiveness and speed of snow clearance. However, only 26 per cent were satisfied with the number of salt bins.

On dog fouling, 36 per cent of respondents said it was common in their area.

On local decision making, 67 per cent rated SBC good or excellent, compared to 17 per cent who deemed the council poor or very poor.

Today, members will be asked to note the results and commission a similar exercise in 2012, but Mr Watson said he would be moving against further surveys on this scale.

“I really do not see the point of going down this road further, when we should be leading from the front, not following spurious statistics,” he told us.