People beginning to blame devolved government for bad service, PwC poll finds

20 Aug 14
Devolved administrations in the nations and regions of the UK are increasingly getting the blame when public services go wrong, but Whitehall still carries the can where division of power is murky, a survey has found.

By Rosie Niven | 22 August 2014

Devolved administrations in the nations and regions of the UK are increasingly getting the blame when public services go wrong, but Whitehall still carries the can where division of power is murky, a survey has found.

A poll by accountants PwC examined public attitudes towards decentralisation of core public services and the appetite for less centralised control.

It found that devolved governments are attracting increasing credit and blame in their areas of responsibility. But after a decade of devolution and decentralisation, the public still holds the UK government to account for public services when they deteriorate nationally, especially when it is unclear who is in charge.

A YouGov survey commissioned as part of the research examined respondents’ views across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about who they would hold accountable if public services deteriorated in their local area, in the wider region and also across the UK as a whole.

Only in services where very visible agencies or people take control, with high degrees of transparency and accountability, such as the Mayor of London in transport, is the heat taken off central government.

The survey finds that the public distinguish responsibility for services and the economy at different levels.

On the economy, improvements locally are credited mostly to local businesses and local people, whereas the UK government is seen as responsible for UK-wide economic improvements

Almost half of the survey respondents agree that ministers should have less power over local services, including hospitals and policing, and that local government should have more power. A similar proportion believes the public should be able to directly elect officials to run public services.

Stephanie Hyde, head of regions at PwC, said decentralisation was at its most effective when there were clear lines of responsibility, delivery and accountability. ‘The results of this survey say less about the public appetite for a blame game and more about our need to raise the profile of who’s responsible and accountable, and for what.’

Nick C Jones, PwC director of government and public sector, said: ‘It’s natural that during the process of decentralisation, for at least a period of time “the centre” will still be blamed for failures, either being seen as responsible for the act of devolution or because the public didn't notice or understand that devolution has occurred.’

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