Home Political science Devolution and Localism in England
The Coalition Policies in Practice
Do local elites want localism?
Most of our interviewees, irrespective of their political persuasion, supported the principle of Localism. National government should trust local government by devolving to it greater powers. 'It is very welcome as a direction of travel' (Local Authority CEO); '[it] is generally going in the right direction' (Local Authority Economic Developer); 'The concept of Localism is something that we would obviously support because as a local authority we are very concerned to feel that we have sufficient powers and sufficient areas of responsibility that we can really impact on the lives of our communities and implement the policies of our ruling group' (Local Authority CEO). Most Local Authority Councillors and Officers are happy with the General Power of Competence, though some pointed out that these powers had, for the most part, already been given under the Local Government Act (2000), and one local politician from a Coalition Party described it as 'so woolly as to be almost meaningless.' Local decision making is seen as having the potential to produce more relevant outcomes for local communities and economies. 'Localism for me is very important. We touched on this the last time you interviewed me. I do believe [Neighbourhood Councils] are very, very, very important for the community' (Local Authority Leader). As one local businessman said: 'the previous government – and perhaps we shouldn't blame them so much as the Treasury – were output-driven NOT outcome-driven.' Another saw Localism as a means of 'bringing together partnerships that aren't necessarily bound by local authority boundaries' (local business CEO).
However, there was little enthusiasm by most for the actual practice of Localism so far. 'I support it in principle … the moves to more local powers, …
There was also general approval in principle for the idea of extending involvement of governance to a wider circle of partnerships, although some local authority politicians and CEOs pointed out that they already had effective partnerships and indeed that they 'have probably been arguing for a great deal more' (civil servant with regional responsibilities). Similarly, 'before the Localism Bill there have been a number of citizenship engagements in this neighbourhood like local partnerships, etc' (3rd Sector CEO). However, as one local government CEO said to us in regard to community rights: 'I think the first question is, “how many local communities want these rights?” I've always believed that they are not rushing to acquire them' (Local Authority CEO). The proposals were also greeted negatively by many in the voluntary sector. 'In principle it has in it levers that might improve local participation but it lacks the necessary infrastructure for citizens to engage with it … Neighbourhood planning, local economic departments, community planning, referenda; all that stuff sounds good on paper but it takes planning and knowledge and skills to apply and those knowledge and resources and skills are not broadly available … So it is a citizenship initiative but only some citizens will be able to exploit its potential' (3rd Sector CEO).
Some in the 3rd Sector had specific worries that ethnic minorities and the disadvantaged could lose out: 'The whole Localism Agenda is defined by geography. The part of the Government's “best value guidance”… to protect the voluntary sector against cuts, was one page' (3rd Sector CEO); 'it is OK to use big language like Localism … but at the end of the day it makes no difference out here. It won't make any changes. It won't change people's lives. It won't change local communities and neighbourhoods … it is very, very difficult to put that into a part and say that it is going to work' (3rd Sector CEO). And those working in Local Authorities had serious anxieties also: 'it seems … that what the Government thinks Localism is, is that the locally elected people seem to be removed from the
Some interviewees were very cynical about the government's motivations. 'I don't think the government is really fundamentally interested in divesting itself of authority. They are just interested in being re-elected' (3rd Sector CEO); '[What] they are doing is transferring difficult decisions down to the local areas so that the local area gets the blame. They've reduced the amount of money coming to us so it is about localizing the blame' (Core City Local Authority CEO); 'My experience of Government is that I will believe that when I see it' (local politician);
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