Everyone will know the result of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election by now, but what about the polls during the campaign, how well did they do? By-election polls have been a rare creature in recent years, but such was the attention paid to this contest that we saw three of them, two from ICM and one from ComRes.

All of them showed the Conservatives in the lead, so no pollsters looked silly this morning, but apart from having the right party in the lead they were actually a long way from the result.

ICM/Mail on Sunday (May 8th) – CON 43%, LAB 39%, LDEM 16%
ICM/News of the World (May 16th) – CON 45%, LAB 37%, LDEM 14%
ComRes/Independent (May 18th) – CON 48%, LAB 35%, LDEM 12%
Result (May 22nd) – CON 49.5%, LAB 30.6%, LDEM 14.6%

ComRes were very close to the actual level of support for the Conservatives, but everybody overestimated the level of support Labour would actually get, and ICM especially were well short of the actual 19 point Tory lead.

Firstly we should add a caveat that all the polls were done several days before polling day – ICM’s last poll was 6 days previous, leaving 6 days for people to change their minds. Given the nature of by-election it’s perfectly possible the electorate swung even further behind the Tories in those final days (such was its brevity, 6 days was a quarter of the whole campaign!).

I suspect the actual reason was the re-allocation of don’t knows that both ICM and ComRes did. ICM assumed that 50% of people who said they didn’t know how they would vote would end up voting for the party that they voted for in 2005, ComRes reallocated all their don’t knows to the party they voted for last time. Without those adjustments their figures would have been:

ICM/Mail on Sunday (May 8th) – CON 51%, LAB 30%, LDEM 15%
ICM/News of the World (May 16th) – CON 49%, LAB 34%, LDEM 13%
ComRes/Independent (May 18th) – CON 49%, LAB 34%, LDEM 12%
Result (May 22nd) – CON 49.5%, LAB 30.6%, LDEM 14.6%

Which are all far closer to the actual result than the adjusted figures were, it looks as though all those Bashful Brownites that ICM and ComRes allowed for never turned up at the polling stations.

ICM’s re-allocation of don’t knows is based on solid research from past elections that shows don’t knows do tend to break in favour of the party they’ve supported in the past, so I don’t intend this to be a criticism of their approach to general election polling. It just appears that it doesn’t work when it comes to a by-election.

86 Responses to “So what happened to the bashful Brownites?”

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  1. A bashful Labour voter to-day is very different from a bashful Tory in 1992, many of whom were shy because they didn’t want to seem to be greedy, thinking that the Tories stood for low income tax, and high unemployment was acceptable.

    A bashful Labour voter to-day doesn’t have a similar reason to be bashful, other than perhaps that one might admire Brown and his leadership skills and not want to be ridiculed for saying so. I can’t imagine any-one wanting a Labour govt to pursue their agenda and being shy about saying so.

  2. Just to clarify , why would anyone secretly support the abolition of the 10p and subsequent debacle, and then pretend to a pollster that they didn’t support it?

  3. The theory behind the spiral of silence, is that if a party is unpopular people may be reluctant to admit to it. It doesn’t depend on the party’s ideology being seen as selfish (though that could be a factor), just unpopular. Think of it as the equivalent of people being embarrassed to admit to a pollster that they like James Blunt :)

    Anyway, while the re-allocation of don’t knows is always associated with the “spiral of silence” and people being embarrassed to admit their preferences to a pollster (largely, I think, because that’s the thought process that led ICM to adopt it) that doesn’t have to be the reason.

    It could just be that when people say “don’t know” to a pollster they genuinely don’t know, but that in practice when they do make up their mind, they disproportionately stick with the party they normally vote for. In other words, the whole spiral of silence thing could be wrong, but the re-allocation of don’t knows in this way could still be right – they don’t necessarily depend upon each other.

  4. That certainly supports the theory that polling performance over a time features tipping-points, beyond which it would require seismic shocks to reverse the momentum.

    Perhaps there might be a case for increasing the weighting to take account of bashful closet supporters when the prevailing gap is greater than, say 15%?

  5. I think it’s quite possible that the opinion polls were correct at the time the fieldwork was done. However, I think a Tory bandwagon got rolling in the final few days due to controversy about the Labour campaign and absolutely rotten headlines on a variety of issues (police pay etc). This led to the majority being bigger than the polls had suggested.

  6. I suspect we will be getting at least one quick poll before the weekend for the Sundays, probably along the lines of

    ” Should Gordon Brown just jump off a Bridge”.

    More seriously I think John is right about this being a tipping point. I think the mood is now strongly,

    Q. “Would Cameron be better than Brown?”,
    A. “Could he be any worse.”


  7. Sorry to be picky – but doesn’t this just mean that this approach simply did not work for this specific by-election? It might be fine in others.

  8. Which neatly sums up why policy differences are irrelevant, until and unless Brown stops just seeming so relatively inept. Whether Cameron would bring back the 10p rate, not lose data, pay the police,etc.etc. doesn’t come into it.

  9. Sorry, Nick, my last comment followed Peter’s. Your point twill no doubt be tested at Henley before long.

  10. The spiral of silence does not work against “the Government”. It works, though to a lesser extent than in the past, against *the Tories*. There’s still a mild stigma about voting Tory (even the very pronunciation of that curious nickname indicates it: should I say “about voting Conservative”, which maybe unwinds that spiral?).

    Cameron has overcome it a lot but it is still there to some extent, and when I go knocking on doors (in admittedly very very safe Labour territory) there’s still some shame attached.

    Labour for all their faults are somehow still seen as the party on the side of the poorest, much as I know it to be untrue, and there is no shame in supporting that. Being seen as on the side of the wealthy isn’t seen in so good a light. Even the unadjusted 2nd ICM and ComRes leads (15%, as against an actual 19%) still imply that.

    Time for another change in methodology?

  11. As I am under orders – please don't IP-ban me Anthony – can we discuss polls…?

    Prof. Thresher – no snide remarks, seriously – quotes a 338 Tory majority! Geesh, bye-bye Scotland!

    On topic YouGov quoted a 13-point lead for Ted T before the election. [Thanks to an HYS contributor for that one!] So, following Anthony’s advice, I went to politics-home and took a Tory win, 3142 majority.

    Effing-ell! I lost £500 by a big margin! Maybe YouGov should swallow some humility! [What say you NBeale…?]

  12. [i]Cllr Peter Cairns (SNP)

    I suspect we will be getting at least one quick poll before the weekend for the Sundays, probably along the lines of

    ” Should Gordon Brown just jump off a Bridge”.[/i]

    Anthony will ban me – my bad – but is that Stirling Bridge…?

  13. peter caines-i would be he firs persn to turn off the t.v if gordo vbow jumpe of a bridge, but ‘ll let his mp’s do that for us (britin that is)dose that mean if gordon jumps the rest of the useless bunch will as well fingers crossed, one thing is clear this is a tipping point and one which labour can not recover.

    i’m off on a long weekend to cromer tonight.

  14. Is there such a thing as a shy LibDem (who are likely to be bigger than Labour in Henley)?

    Or a shy EDP person, for that matter?

  15. Stuart – Italy is lovely at this time of the year – don’t fall in the Trevi fountain will you!

  16. Back in 1997, would anyone have believed that the standard rate of income tax could be cut to 20% and yet do nothing to boost the government.

  17. Peter
    I think you have just come up with the Tory slogan for the next election.

    Tories and SNP working in ever closer…..closeness!

  18. John:-

    “Whether Cameron would bring back the 10p rate, not lose data, pay the police,etc.etc. doesn’t come into it.”

    Your first item certainly doesn’t come into it-a Conservative administration would presumably have had an entirely different Budget.They may have made errors in that Budget-but you can’t expect Cameron to say how he would correct an error in a Budget he didn’t construct.
    Your second item did come into it I think-didn’t they e-mail 7000 C&N voter details to a journalist ?
    I rather thought they said they would honour the police award as part of the no strike deal.

    ….but I’m digressing from your point, which was , I think that these things “didn’t come into it” with the C&N voters. Which makes one wonder what on earth GB can do if the punters have just switched off from him & his Party.

    It struck me today that this dilemma is shared by the various political experts who have been pontificating in the media during the day.

    The solutions I have listened to include:-
    *Focus on the economy in two years time & keep saying we will be through the worst by then.
    *Stop talking about the long term and produce some simple achievable short term policies.
    *Stop producing “shopping lists” of unrelated policies.
    *Reverse the car-tax hike for older cars, reduce petrol tax-do not do anything which takes cash out of pockets.
    *Attack the energy companies for price fixing & exploitation.
    *Smile more.
    *Have a re-shuffle.
    *Don’t have a re-shuffle
    *Have a new leader ( didn’t hear bridges mentioned at all )
    *Don’t change leader-there isn’t anyone better.

    Unless Labour take a punt on a new Leader, aren’t they essentially following the first suggestion above-waiting for the economic problems to go away.

    GB says he will make them go away of course-but how in hell will he do that? What influence does he have over food prices -or oil prices? ( Hazel Blears is burbling about ” international influence” to increase supply!!!)
    How can he influence interest rates now-even the BoE can’t do that since market rates still exceed Base Rate & has the £50bn produced more available consumer credit?

    And even if the financial pain people are feeling now does abate by 2010-with or without active assistance from GB-will the public say “thanks-we’ll vote you back in now?”

    It must all be a very bleak prospect for Labour MP’s. I have heard a number of Toriy MPs today saying -been there, got the T shirt.

  19. Anthony, although your argument seems sounds, drawing a line through the polls on a chart would imply that (on a simple extrapolation) a final vote very close to the actual result, wouldn’t it? Especially as we know things did get worse in the last few days politically for Labour.

  20. The problem with byelection polls IMHO is that there is often a last week bandwagon effect towards the likely winner and I think this rather than any polling errors is the reason for the underestimated Conservative lead .

  21. Colin

    *Smile more.

    In my expert opinion, a bum steer if ever there was one! He should stop fiddling and purt the fire out, with a straight face.

    Matthew’s point about the last few days reminds me of Kinnock’s last few days in 1992 – was it really shy tories who did for hinm, or was it his disastrous last few days’ campaigning?

    Brown’s “waste” of public funds , “failure to mend the roof in the sunshine”, are as nothing compared with the global conditions out there.

    I expect horror stories about inflation blowing our BofE’s controls out of the water, but I don’t necessarily expect it to materialise.

    It will come down to who the public trust more, not who has the better policies, because domestic policies will not make much difference to what happens to oil and food prices.

    Brown’s main problem is that he has dominated the scene for eleven years, and can’t be the fresh face that Major could claim to be. People at the moment trust Cameron more.

    Brown’s main hopes are that we don’t actually see massive unemployment returning, or double digit inflation and interest rates, that he can manage a decent bribe next year and that Cameron comes a cropper somehow.

  22. John:-

    “It will come down to who the public trust more”

    Yes I agree-and that’s a judgement moving badly against Brown now & in favour of Cameron.

    But it is staggering to recall that this was the man who was to restore trust in Politics, do away with Blair’s spin-Honest Gordon from The Manse who would care for us all & never let us down…only a few months ago.

  23. John TT
    “Brown’s main hopes are that we don’t actually see massive unemployment returning, or double digit inflation and interest rates”

    I could be wrong but I think we’ve seen the end for good of double digit inflation rates and interest rates these days simply because politicians no longer control interest rates. That’s probably still the best thing that GB has done in 11 years and I can’t see any future governmnet of either colour taking back direct control of interest rates.

    However let’s be honest the BOE doesn’t know where to go at the moment. Inflation is rising so interest rates shoud be going up and the economy is slowing so interest rates should be cut. As ever they’ll probably fudge it and leave it at 5% for a while and see what happens.

    However inflation could have further to go yet and many people are seeing cuts in living standards. That’s always bad for the Government in power at the polls.

    The real problem though is that people’s perception of inflation is much higher than the published figures. I’d hazard a guess that people “feel” that inflation is more like 6-8%.(Primarily because of food and fuel) and if your perception is 6-8% and you only got a 2% wage increase as many people did – that’s a significant cut in living standards.

  24. my money is on a may/sept 2009 general election.gb trying to look strong and not desparate.

    the housing market will not improve for a few years yet so labour a goosed.that is what lulled middle england into a false sense of its ok for taxes to go up, we can afford it.
    with the libdems now working closely with cameron(as long as the libs have a moderate leader like clegg,there a lot of snapping lefties in the ranks)labour may be out for a very long time.

  25. KTL
    Food and energy costs are pushing the CPI figure up. If clothing, furniture and other basket items start rising too, we’re all goosed. I suspect Osborne would re-set the target at 5%.

    The next public sector pay talks will be interesting!

  26. Colin,

    I suspect that Brown will opt for hanging on and hoping the economy gets better.

    Apart from being a slim hope (things are likely to get even worse before they recover in about two years), it will not be enough. If Brown is in any doubt about this he just needs to ask himself what state he found the economy in when he first became chancellor. And what good did the soundest public finances in decades do for Major ?


  27. Philip – Brown has been lusting after the job for years. I don’t think he’ll give it up one second before he has to. My money would be on a June 2010 election if the polls stay bad for Labour

  28. next polls will be interesting -should hardly see an improvement for Labour after last week. secondly, is there an element of the population, who are not interested in politics but will hear news items such as by-election results, opinion polls and just say to themselves -well if everyone else think the tories are ok then I might as well vote for them as well? and visa verca in that Brown is a loser so I wont vote for him

  29. John TT

    “The next public sector pay talks will be interesting!”

    You’re right but the Government clearly knew what was coming and has locked many public sector workers into 3 year deals, without their consent of course.

    More pain to come!!

    In the current economic scenario I would aregue that the 2% target is way too small. I think a target of 3%-3.5% would be much better as a long term aim.

    I don’t think 5% could or ever should be the inflation
    target regardless of the situation – too high!

  30. Technical question Anthony:

    You say that ICM weight 50% of unknown’s and that clearly had a massive impact on the change, if the weighting hadn’t occurred the polls were almost correct. The May 8 poll (excluding Don’t Knows) was virtually bang on the money.

    Yet ComRes weight 100% – if weighting was the problem then this should surely be doubly worse. Yet ComRes’s results were barely shifted by the weighting, rather than massively changed for the worse like ICM’s were. How can this be?

    Did ComRes find a completely different set of Don’t Knows who split the same as the Knows, or is there some other weighting involved here?

  31. In answer to Mark Senior, I know of no evidence of last-minute swings towards either Tory or Labour in by-elections (Crewe being an exception).
    The Liberal Democrats have a habit of moving sharply forward, provided that they are second in the opinion polls that are published.
    Based on this, I would concur with the “Don’t-Know reallication” theory.
    Just a tiny issue: I cannot find (or remember) many by-election opinion polls. Ribble-Valley, Newbury, Greenwich and Bemondsey and West Derbyshire and Eastbourne all suggest large swings in last few-days to Lib Dems (from second); Fulham, Monmouth, South Staffs suggest very little movement during the campaign itself. Anyone got any more info.

  32. Brown has an image problem which I think will be almost impossible to rectify. It would be impossible to prove, although it would make for a really unusual poll question, but I believe that every time Brown appears on the TV a few more Labour votes leach away.

    There’s a big difference compared to the Major years in that Major was generally liked as a person but was completely undone by having to lead a totally disunited party. Brown seems to be disliked although the party is currently holding together; what happens if the Labour party appears to be increasingly disunited could therefore be even worse.

  33. All the talk in the Sunday papers about plots to get rid of Gordon Brown are just so much hot air. I think it is just a bunch of mini Alistair Campbell clones going round the pubs buying drinks for tired old hacks and feeding them with off the record ‘views’ which have no credence whatsoever and which they know cannot be traced back to their political masters in the Labour party.
    Personal attacks on the Prime Minister have gone well over the top and if the Tories want to keep him going until the election whenever it is they should not join in the witchhunt. I cannot think of a single leader of any of the main parties since WW2 who did not have the best interests of his or her country folk at heart. To hear some Scots talk you would think Maggie Thatcher’s sole purpose in life was to make them all unemployed and to listen to some people in the home counties you would think Brown was Beelzebub himself and of course many people think Tony Blair is a war criminal etc etc.
    I question Mr Brown’s policies and competence but not his heart.He is not a bad person anymore than his predecessors. He is just a guy in the wrong job and sooner or later he will get his P45.So less of the personal invective please.

  34. Philip – it’s because ComRes use a squeeze question and ICM don’t. ComRes ask all the people who say don’t know who they are most likely to vote for (normally they use a question asking how they would vote if they were legally obliged to), and then reallocated the people who STILL said don’t know. ICM don’t have that step, they just ask voting intention then re-allocate all the don’t knows.

  35. How do the “don’t knows but squeezed” and the “still don’t knows” weighted? Surely their weighting can’t be as important as those who actually know?

  36. How do they get* weighted?

  37. KTL,

    The fact that the BoE is caught in a cleft stick with inflation indicators pointing to a rise and economic activity calling for a cut simply highlights the fundamental flaw in having fiscal policy divorced from monetary policy.

    In theory, monetary policy should be adjusted in response to inflationary indicators, while fiscal policy is used to prime, or restrain, economic expansion. However, in order for tehe system to work smoothly, both sides need to shoulder responsibility to manage their policy area apropriately.

    Previously, the BoE and Treasury would work together to manage fiscal and monetary policy, so that neither one was left to take all the strain. Under the current system, the BoE, being responsible only for monetary policy, with CPI as its primary target, should be respondng to the “UP” indicators. However, because Brown’s treasury has made such a complete mess of fiscal policy, economic policy as a whole is unbalanced and unable to respond to current needs.

    This is not an argument for government reversing BoE independance, but merely highlight how bad Brown really was as Chancellor.

    At present, there is no scope for the government to
    relax fiscal policy since this has been too lax for years, which has not only acted as an economic stimulant, but, because of incredibly wasteful public spending, has left nothing to show but high levels of taxation and debt.

    Brown will go down in history as “the worst PM”, but in truth, his real legacy should be as a dreadful chancellor, who may have started well, but hid his incompetence behind a web of confusion while squandering the good fortune bequeathed him by Ken Clarke, who proved to be arguably one of the best Chancellors ever.

    Brown has left a poison pill at the treasury for whomever succeeds him. In typical fashion, we can expect Brown and his acolytes to snipe from the opposition benches for years to come as Osborne struggles to bring our fiscal position back under control.

    Regrettably, there is little scope for tax cuts for years to come.

  38. As always with hyperbolic partisan invective like that of Paul H-J, only the unthinking will assume there is any veracity in it. Clear, logical, even-handed argument is rather more effective and credible.

  39. John C

    Well said and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who actually knows anything about Osborne and anything about his credentials for being the second most important person in the country?

  40. John C

    Yes Paul HJ is being partisan-who amongst us is completely innocent of that ? However there is some truth in what he says. The central charge against Brown is that he thought that the good times could last forever and a more prudent man would have kept something in hand for a rainy day. The public might be more forgiving if they felt that the vast sums of money hurled at the public services had produced significant improvements instead of the patchy picture which is all there is to show for this extravagance much of which as Ken Clarke predicted was spent on wages and salaries rather than the services.
    Brown’s legacy will haunt this country for years. He more than Blair thought that central government could remake society. It has’nt. It can never do so. We need a new direction and for all that George Osbourne is an unknown quantity David Bowtell he deserves his chance as much as anyone.
    The trouble with British politics is as ever that unlike America all the officers are in one party and all the lower ranks are in the other…an oversimplification of course but not without a spidgen of truth.

  41. Paul HJ is absolutely right.

    The Labour MPs & Ministers who continue to peddle the “Greatest Chancellor Ever” story are partisan-and deluded.

    If you don’t believe it just Google ” Brown’s economic record” and see for yourself.

    It is sobering to read warnings dated 2005 of the dangers inherant in economic growth based on massive increases in public spending on unreformed public services, credit card fuelled consumer spending & unsustainable house price/mortgage debt.

    The only period during which Brown could claim to have been a decent Chancellor was in his first two years. He had the benefit of an economy which had been growing since 1992/93, and had not commenced his exponential growth of spend on social security & public services.

    Blair understood what had happened when he made his “I wish I had been bolder” speech.And who stopped him being bolder?

  42. John C / David

    I may appear to have been partisan, but if you read my post again you will find that my arguments are simply:
    Economic policy has two main areas – fiscal & monetary policy – which need to work together for optimum effect.
    Having monetary policy run independantly of fiscal policy works so long as fiscal policy is used to complement, not counteract it.
    Brown’s record as chancellor from about 1999 onwards was to run a lax fiscal policy, evidenced by recurring deficits, as a result of which the economy became unbalanced, and so, in time of crisis, there is no leeway to adjust fiscal policy.

    That is an objective assessment.

    The abundance of commentators referring to chickens coming home to roost underline this.

    The challenge for the next Chancellor (which could have been Darling if he had the temerity to challenge Brown) is two-fold:
    Firstly, to bring the ongoing deficit back to a manageable level; then, and only then, to run a surplus when the economy expands, so as to reduce teh national debt and thereby create a cushion in order to weather the next downturn.

    It is clear from the above that tax cuts cannot be a high priority for the next Chancellor (whatever his name or party).

    It is also clear from the above that Brown’s greatest failure was in not building the fiscal cushion needed, hence the depth of the problem the country now faces.

  43. news elephant.
    since 1997 taxes in the uk have risen by a staggering
    one TRILLION pounds.there greatest tax hike in uk history.
    so you really think that 2p off income tax is going to help families who are now borrowing on tuesdays to pay back loans at 25% a week interest on payday.
    this country is in an unmitigated mess.
    my problem is will cameron have a break for a second term.thatcher nearly did not.the mess is worse than in 19 79/83.
    if labour get back in my lifetime i will be off.i am 44.i will not put myself through this again.crime out of control,taxed to the hilt,2m new goverment/quango empolyees,stuff the motorist,how long have you got.
    as long as you guys think 2p will work the better.

  44. Just trying to bring it back from the whacky extremes…

    Kenneth Clarke would not have stuck to his own spending plans in 1998 0r 1999. Who says ? He did, in 1998 and 1999. Thought Brown was too strict.

    The so-called “cushion” that Clarke would have developed would have come from less generous public sector pay awards, and much less public sector employment.

    The examples of waste that get trotted out are insignigicant when compared with the money spent on hiring and paying people.

    The relevant question for me is whether we still think that taxes should be spent at the current rates on public service employment and pay. Who is winning that argument? How should health and education services be funded?

  45. John tt
    Not sure if your reference to ‘whacky extremes’ is aimed at me but I’ll let that one slide….
    You are correct in raising the questions that you do in your last paragraph.Education has to remain centrally funded but the NHS needs root and branch reform. The 1944 all party Beveridge report which led to the founding of the NHS four years later never suggested that it should be solely funded from Whitehall. We should dust down that report update it and produce options and if necessary hold a referendum. As for the NHS wages bill all governments face a constant battle to keep this under control but the years of discipline in the 1990’s were lost by this administration failing to ensure that the extra funds went to improve the infrastructure and the equipment before anything else.

  46. john tt

    For me the more relevant question is not “whether” taxes should be spent on public services but “by what means” they should be spent.

    The big question is how our monolithic public service structures should be managed.

    Is the State best placed to manage ( some would say micro-manage) as well as to fund?

    Is the role of the State as funder, facilitator and compliance regulator more appropriate-and if so how can that model be best implemented?

    With regard to the “insignificance” of waste by this government I think your assessment is quite wrong. The figures would add to a very very significant sum. The difficulty would be in agreeing on what is consodered “wastefull”.

  47. Not specifically at you, but the remark about officers and other ranks was a bit off the wall.

    The years of “discipline” involved far too many marches calling for more investment in the NHS.

    I assume you’re seeking to ignore the amount of capital sums spent on building new hospitals, but that’s a side issue – equipment is relatively cheap – it’s the qualified manpower to run it that costs.

    Going back to 1944 isn’t going to help, but I’m all for putting it to the people. Cameron’s position is “free at the point of need” . Sounds like Labour’s, doesn’t it? Only it isn’t.

    What’s Cameron’s definition of “need”? It’s a very different position from “free at the point of delivery”. I just hope he’s as honest as you are Nick and puts it to the people in a clear way.

  48. Not seeming to be too partisan I do think that one thing well worth considering throughout the UK would be the SNP’s system of joint outcomes.

    What John Sweeney has done is move away from specific centrally set and monitored targets and ring fenced funds towards an agreed set of outcomes.

    Instead of councils having to bid for ring fenced funds, each with there own criterion, all of the previously ring fenced monies have been added to Councils block grant and it is now up to individual Councils to spend the money how they see fit to locally achieve the shared objectives.

    This is from Community Care UK;

    “Scotland’s new local government funding reforms

    Posted: 16 May 2008 | Subscribe Online

    writes Pat Hagan

    A year in power and one thing the Scottish National Party cannot be accused of is resting on its laurels. Chief among the changes it has pushed through the Scottish Parliament is a major drive to revamp the funding and management of social services.

    Gone is the practice of central government handing down diktats to local authorities that cash be spent to meet ministerial objectives, rather than local priorities. Instead, a new spirit of co-operation is in the air, as the SNP seeks to ensure that resources invested deliver improvements in services.

    The SNP and local councils have agreed a concordat that sets out the principles underpinning this new working relationship.

    One of the central planks of the policy is a reduction in the red tape around funding, allowing councils to move money from one spending priority to another.
    In 2007-8, £2.7bn was ring-fenced for specific services in Scotland. In 2008-9, this will drop to £500m and by 2010-11, it will be just £300m.

    Each council will be expected to achieve annual efficiency savings of 2%, but can keep the money saved to invest in local services. To monitor progress, all 32 councils must sign a single outcome agreement with the Scottish government. Each agreement takes account of local priorities and is underpinned by national indicators.

    And from now on, councils have to submit only one annual report detailing their achievements and objectives, rather than a constant stream of paperwork to prove they are meeting their targets.

    Other key initiatives include prioritising dementia in Scotland’s healthcare strategy, greater use of community sentences for drug and alcohol offences rather than prison, and an independent review, unveiled last month, outlining how to strengthen the policy of free personal care for older people.

    About 50,000 people in Scotland benefit from FPC, first announced in 2002 under the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act, and pressures on funding are certain to grow as the population ages further.

    But has this quiet revolution north of the border really made a difference to those at the front line of social care services, or their users?

    Bernadette Docherty (pictured right), president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, says the policy has been received positively, but it is too soon to say for certain that it will result in better care.

    “The changes have been very well received,” she says. “The nature of the relationship between national government and local government has changed – it’s now much more of a partnership approach.

    “We are developing policy together, rather than just having it handed down to us with a set of instructions.”

    Docherty says it is too early to say there have been tangible improvements – nor is the strategy without risks. “We need to make sure we can safeguard the most vulnerable groups of people,” she says.

    “Scrapping much of the ring-fencing of funds has a lot of support, but the caveat is: will it lead to fewer resources for vulnerable groups? That’s something we will be monitoring very carefully.”

    Docherty believes the potential to reinvest 2% savings at a local level could make a significant difference.

    “We face a big challenge with Scotland’s ageing population and the issue of long-term funding of care,” she says.

    Ronnie McCall, spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, says that of all the new SNP policies, the scrapping of ring-fencing will, arguably, have the greatest impact at local level.

    “From a local government point of view, we are very happy about it,” he says. “It allows us much greater flexibility in terms of what the money is spent on.

    “Not every local area has exactly the same problems. In the past, you would have ring-fenced money that had to be put into something that was already perfectly well funded. For example, urban areas might have different priorities to rural areas.”


  49. Anthony,
    Do you have figures for ICM’s pre-election polls for 97, 01 and 05 without the reallocation of “don’t know’s”?

  50. In 2005 it made no difference in ICM’s final poll – it was CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 22% both before and after the reallocation.

    2001 I don’t have figures for.

    1997 the unadjusted figures were CON 30%, LAB 46%, LDEM 19%, the adjusted ones CON 33%, LAB 43%, LDEM 18%.

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