A new APSE research publication ‘Two Tribes? Exploring the future role of elected members’ has revealed sharp contrasts in attitudes between those in decision-making and 'backbench' roles. This new research study describes the existence of 'two tribes' among local politicians - with opinions on matters including local government political structures and capacity to improve services split according to roles rather than political persuasion.
Results of the survey, involving almost 2,600 local authority elected members, were analysed by local government experts from De Montfort University and Cardiff University. The report compares latest findings with a survey posing the same questions shortly after the 2000 Local Government Act replaced the committee structure with separate executive and non-executive functions.
Researchers found 65% of executive councillors thought local government modernisation measures had worked well, compared with 37% of non-executive councillors. While 58% of executive members believed separating decision-making powers from scrutiny had increased transparency, less than 30% of backbenchers agreed. Significantly, two out of three non-executive members thought the modernisation agenda had marginalised their role.
The report suggests fiscal austerity has taken its toll on councillor confidence. Belief in capacity to further improve services had fallen dramatically since the 2003 survey; and while 87% of executive members believed they personally could contribute to improvements, only 43% of backbenchers thought they could do so.
The study also echoes recognised concerns that the average age of the councillors was 60, only 29% were women and only 4% from an ethnic minority.