Regular readers of this blog may already be thoroughly fed up with the way I bang on about ‘community’ and its importance to people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging, which in turn gives a far better tone to society as a whole. I think Thatcher was entirely wrong to claim that there’s no such thing as society. People of all stripes like to belong, to feel comfortable in their surroundings, however opulent, however humble. Perhaps our greatest piece of social vandalism was flattening the Gorbals for wholesale transfer to the tower blocks of Castlemilk. More recently, the middle class wildernesses of Dalgety Bay and Penicuik exhibit the same problem.
So, when my own council did an in-depth resident satisfaction survey through Research Resource, I was deeply curious to see how the administration of which I am a part and whose direction I helped set performed. It is both a relief and a delight to say that we seem to be on the right track.
First of all, a trend analysis of what most needs improving shows concern for affordable housing—our top priority—halving (24% to 12%) and big improvements on clean streets (15% to 6%), public transport (13% to 10%) and health services (11% to 5%) showing clear progress. Worst were jobs (30% to 32%) and cost of living (10% to 14%), both items I’ve been banging on about for the twelve years I’ve been a councillor. These rankings were constant across the county, although Dunbar was especially dissatisfied with affordable housing and Tranent with activities for teenagers.
Perceived problems were also similar across the county, with Dunbar seeing drugs and alcohol abuse far worse than elsewhere. Crime and homelessness were both seen as low (0-4%) and the trend since 2009 was clearly improving on all measures. In terms of managing financially, over 85% of households in all areas were doing tolerably well, again with the exception of Dunbar, where the number was 70%. None were reporting deep financial trouble.
Most encouraging were attitudes towards East Lothian Council, especially as compared with earlier surveys. “Value for Money” rose from 48% to 71%; “Designing services around people’s needs” from 47% to 73%; “Does a good job caring for local people” from 53% to 78%. This trend was consistent across a dozen measures. Each of those measures here is now double results for the Scottish Household Survey of Scotland as a whole. Perceived safety was up (Very/fairly safe 70% to 78%) while fear of crime (and actual crime) was down (Great Deal/Fair Amount 11% to 2%).
In terms of what makes for a high Quality of Life and how well their area performs, the old difference between the East and West of the county seem to be disappearing as they develop more similarities. Whereas the mining vs rural background once stood these two main elements in stark contrast, the steep decline of deep mining half a century ago and the similarities among new residents of the new estates in all seven wards is both smoothing out inequalities and bonding the main towns with issues in common.
The proportion who are very satisfied with the county and the way it is being run has increased from 15% to 57% in the last two years, with Musselburgh West showing the lowest level who are very satisfied (11%) and Preston/Seton/Gosford the highest (75%). But adding in those fairly satisfied brings the county-wide figure to 90% which, while no cause for either smugness or complacency, does make you think that, not only is East Lothian blessed with a fortunate quality of life but that ELC seems to be on the right track to preserve and improve it.