2 Defining localism and its aims|
12. On the surface, localism is an uncontroversial
concept. The large majority of our witnesses were, with some caveats,
appreciative of the Government's intentions, enthused by the prospect
of more powers being made available to local authorities, communities,
and third sector organisations, and welcoming of more opportunities
for citizens to influence how their services are designed and
delivered. We took
evidence at the outset of our inquiry from local government leaders
from all three major parties, who emphasised that there is considerable
cross-party consensus on the need for decentralisation.
Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of the LGA Liberal Democrats, defined
involving people, wherever possible, in the decisions
that affect their life, and devolving to officers, members and
civil societythat's probably the easiest way to describe
itpower to make those decisions at the lowest possible
level, so we meet the real needs of local communities and individuals,
not the perceived needs of people in Whitehall and town halls.
Cllr Steve Reed, Leader of Labour-controlled Lambeth
I think we're looking at equalising the power
relationship between the citizen and the state, or between public
services and the people who use public services, so that citizens
are able to become active shapers, rather than just passive recipients,
of services. Localism is about putting in place the mechanisms
that allow that transfer of power to happen and have meaning in
terms of the services that people receive.
13. Cllr Colin Barrow, Conservative Leader of Westminster
City Council, summed up their agreement: "I think we all
believe that decisions should be taken as close to the people
who are affected by them as possible".
This sits comfortably alongside the Department's own declaration
that "Our guiding principle is that power should be held
at the lowest possible level, whether this is individuals, communities,
neighbourhoods, local institutions or local government."
These statements reflect the general thrust of the principle of
'subsidiarity'; that decisions should be taken and power exercised
at the lowest appropriate level. Decisions affecting a particular
area should wherever possible be taken within that area, without
interference from higher tiers of government.
14. We asked the Minister for Decentralisation, Greg
Clark, what international examples the Government had in mind
as models for the sort of localism it is seeking to promote. He
did not cite a particular country, emphasising instead that the
English system is "one of the most centralised" in the
world. Mr Clark talked about the greater involvement of communities
at local level in planning in the Netherlands, greater community
ownership of rewards for development in Denmark, and the freedom
of states in the United States; "Wherever you look you come
to the ineluctable conclusion that we are very centralised to
a dysfunctional extent."
15. We welcome the Government's commitment to
localism and decentralisation. We agree with the Government that
power in England is currently too centralised, that each community
should be able to influence what happens in its locality to a
much greater extent, that there has been in the past too much
central government interference in the affairs of local authorities,
and that public services have been insufficiently accountable
to their local populations. In these respects we concur with
the conclusions of our predecessors in their report on the balance
of power between central and local government.
16. Barnsley Council, however, identified why localism
can in fact prove a contentious concept:
the problem with 'localism' is that like sunshine,
no one can be against it, which means that everyone is a 'localist'.
But the concept is sufficiently broad so as to invite a number
of varying interpretations from a range of people and political
parties. Often, this ensures that there is a perpetual sea of
uncertainty and structural and functional change, some of which
is genuinely supportive of localism, some of which, despite the
stated claims, is profoundly not.
The way in which localism is defined, and whether
the Government's definition matches that of other actors is, therefore,
of crucial importance, but some confusion does exist on this front.
The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations,
for example, reported that among frontline voluntary sector organisations,
"there seems to be little common agreement on what is defined
as local, how this is shaped and by whom."
The Government's definition of
Alongside the publication of the Localism Bill in
December 2010, DCLG published Decentralisation and the Localism
Bill: an essential guide. The purpose of this document, Greg
Clark told us, is to make tangible what might otherwise remain
"a rather abstract term to which it is easy to pay lip service".
It lists six actions for every department and every level of government:
- To lift the burden of bureaucracyby
removing the cost and control of unnecessary red tape and regulation,
whose effect is to restrict local action;
- To empower communities to do things their wayby
creating rights for people to get involved with, and direct the
development of, their communities;
- To increase local control of public financeso
that more of the decisions over how public money is spent and
raised can be taken within communities;
- To diversify the supply of public servicesby
ending public sector monopolies, ensuring a level playing field
for all suppliers, giving people more choice and a better standard
- To open up government to public scrutinyby
releasing government information into the public domain, so that
people can know how their money is spent, how it is used and to
what effect; and
- To strengthen accountability to local peopleby
giving every citizen the power to change the services provided
to them through participation, choice or the ballot box.
17. Some of these actions are ones that have long
been identified with the ideas of localism and decentralisation:
increasing local control of public finance, creating new avenues
for people to affect how their area develops, and increasing accountability
at local level. Others appear more tangential; increased transparency
might well support localism, for example, but it is a policy aim
in its own right whose effect should not only be felt at a local
level. The case for diversification of the supply of public services
being a policy of purely localist intent and effect is also uncertain.
Notably absent from this high-level summary of the main actions
to be taken is any mention of local authorities. These are issues
to which we will return in later chapters.
18. The terms 'Big Society', 'localism', and 'decentralisation'
have been used in conjunction in a variety of contexts by many
commentators, and are explicitly linked by the Government.
The three core components of the Big Society agenda have been
defined by the Government as:
- Empowering communities: giving
local councils and neighbourhoods more power to take decisions
and shape their area;
- Opening up public services: enabling charities,
social enterprises, private companies and employee-owned co-operatives
to compete to offer people high quality services;
- Promoting social action: encouraging and enabling
people from all walks of life to play a more active part in society,
and promoting more volunteering and philanthropy.
With the addition of "social action", these
are elements already familiar from the six actions for decentralisation
in the 'essential guide'.
19. We asked the Minister, Greg Clark, how localism,
decentralisation and the Big Society relate to each other. He
They are related. I see localism as the ethos,
if you like, to try to do everything at the most local level.
I see decentralisation as the way you do that. If you start from
a relatively centralised system, you decentralise to achieve that.
] If you do that seriously and comprehensively then I think
you move from a position of a very centralised state to something
we have called the big society. Therefore, localism is the ethos;
decentralisation is the process, and the outcome is the Big Society.
20. Not everyone is convinced that the Big Society
and other elements of the decentralisation programme sit comfortably
alongside each other, however. Reconciling a desire for greater
service integration at local level with an approach expected to
lead to a diverse pattern of service provision and community activity
may be problematic.
This, too, is a theme we will revisit in a later chapter.
21. The Government seems keen for communities and
local organisations to take hold of the localism agenda and shape
it to their own ends, deliberately therefore shying away from
being prescriptive. It stands to reason that localism will look
different in each community.
Nonetheless, it is surprising that we have not come across a coherent,
comprehensive vision of how public services and local democracy
will change in response to the Government's agenda. We asked the
Minister to sketch out for us what the delivery of public services
would look like in his own constituency in five years' time. He
For a start, I think the county council and borough
councilwe have a two-tier authoritywill be able
to distinguish themselves from perhaps their neighbours and do
things in different ways. For example, they might choose to target
the town of Tunbridge Wells, which has a lot of potential as a
tourist destination. It also has a degree of potential in some
of the new media centres, so, for example, they could use the
powers they will have, whether it is to vary business rates or
promote particular aspects of the local economy. They can do that
and make a pitch for distinguishing themselves from neighbouring
councils. In other words, they are not just a vehicle for delivering
services; there can be something more tangibly Tunbridge Wells
about it. What I would also hope and expect to see is a much greater
engagement and partnership with local communities and voluntary
groups. It should be easier for them to access the provision of
services. I think it should be less of a situation in which they
are dependent on just the grants programme, but those boundaries
around the town hall should be chipped away at so there is a greater
flow. On planning, for example, I would like to see a good proportion
of the neighbourhoods in Tunbridge Wellsthe whole constituency,
not just the townexpress a vision of how they would like
their community to be in the future. Therefore, I would like to
see greater civic engagement from the grassroots and a greater
sense of local difference, I suppose.
We are struck by how little of this depends on any
new powers or initiatives being introduced by the Government.
With the exception of varying local business rateson which
a decision has not yet been announcednothing in this description
of Tunbridge Wells 2016 could not be achieved by creative local
authorities within the existing framework.
22. No more compelling vision was advanced by Baroness
Eaton, Chair of the Local Government Association, when we asked
her what actions councils have been itching to take, but for a
lack of powers or flexibility. Joint contracting between local
authorities was one area where she felt the general power of competence
might prove useful, but otherwise, "local authorities do
not just go down the route of saying, 'This is a major scheme
we would like to do but we cannot do it, and it's ready on the
shelf,' because it is costly of time and officers' commitments".
Simon Parker, Director of the New Local Government Network (NLGN),
suggested that local authorities views of what innovations they
would like to pursue would develop in response to new permissive
23. For some stakeholders, clarity about what a localist
system will look like in practice cannot come soon enough. The
business community in particular has expressed its interest in
knowing at an early stage how it will be affected.
Anxiety on this front is heightened by the speed with which the
Government has acted in the name of localism to remove some mechanismssuch
as regional spatial strategies and Government Offices for the
regionswithout deciding on the successor arrangements.
Edward Cooke of the British Council of Shopping Centres told us:
we are not at a point where we can say wholeheartedly
that we absolutely support localism in the structure that is to
be presented because on the whole we do not know what it will
look like. Our main concern is probably in the area of transition.
We have had a fairly centralised system of Government over the
past number of years. Rapid devolution of decision-making to local
level creates a number of issues, not just about clarity of responsibility.
We would like to see Government produce some constitutional settlement,
or whatever it might be, that really identifies who is responsible
The use of a constitutional settlement to define
the relationship between central and local government was one
of the proposals advanced by our predecessors in their report
on the balance of power between the two levels of government.
The Central-Local Concordat and the European Charter of Local
Self-Government were the two ready-made solutions suggested; putting
either on a statutory footing would help to make concrete an unhelpfully
malleable relationship. Our predecessors also recommended that
the relationship be overseen by a new joint committee of both
Houses of Parliament.
24. The explanations of localism and decentralisation
that the Government has thus far provided invoke very diffuse
aims from which it is difficult to construct a coherent picture
of the end goal. There is little clarity about who will ultimately
be responsible for what. Increasing the influence of local decision-making
is bound to result in some unpredictable outcomes, but we recommend
that the Government undertake to provide a more detailed explanation
of the framework within which it envisages such changes taking
place and the limits that will be set to central intervention.
A constitutional settlement, overseen by a joint committee, could
provide such a framework, at least insofar as it relates to the
role of local government. We are pleased that our colleagues
on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have been
undertaking a more detailed consideration of this topic and we
look forward to seeing their conclusions.
Localism in other government departments
25. This somewhat elastic approach to the definition
of localism is evident also in the way other government departments
describe their contributions to the policy. Every department's
business plan includes a Structural Reform Plan with a uniform
introduction, which emphasises the Government's commitment to
"a power shift, taking power away from Whitehall and putting
it into the hands of people and communities". The body of
the Department for Work and Pensions' business plan makes far
fewer mentions of decentralisation or transparency among its priorities
compared to, say, that of the Home Office. We took evidence from
the Minister for Employment, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, and asked
him why this was so; he told us "it depends on how you look
26. DWP provides a good example of how departments
are not always going about decentralisation in the ways anticipated
or asked for by other stakeholders. One of DWP's biggest priorities
since the change of Government has been the re-organisation of
welfare-to-work schemes into a single Work Programme. Local authorities
have been vocal in their requests for greater powers to tackle
worklessness in their areas, arguing that their intimate knowledge
of local circumstances could make a decisive difference to the
prospects for success. Despite this, the Work Programme is being
organised on the basis of regional contracts, an approach characterised
by some in the local government sector as strikingly "centralised".
Asked which services his council would like to tailor to local
services in ways that are not currently possible, Cllr Stephen
Houghton, Leader of Barnsley Council, told the Committee that
tackling unemployment and worklessness would be a priority:
The Government's current position is that it
will do that through nationally led training provider contracts.
All the evidence suggests to us that the best way to tackle worklessness
and long-term unemployment is by localising it, working in local
communities and personalising services to the unemployed and using
that local intelligence, context and need to shape what is being
done. That is not what we have got at the moment. Under the national
provider contracts, it is left to the contractors to decide what
they want to do. We cannot even obtain from those providers any
Dr Andrew Povey, Leader of Surrey County Council,
expressed a similar view about which areas of Whitehall should
be challenged to decentralise:
If I look across Surrey and at where most public
expenditure is, I think the piece that is missing from the link
is the DWP. [...] If in future you are to concentrate on those
particular complex families that cost an enormous amount in all
sorts of areas of public expenditure, you need the DWP on board.
Baroness Eaton, Chair of the Local Government Association,
told us that DWP had "closed the drawbridge" to local
27. We put some of these concerns to Mr Grayling.
a number of the welfare reform programmes we
have brought forward are national by nature but will clearly be
local by implementation. [
] Broadly, what we have not done
is devolve responsibility to local government. A lot of the delivery
of our programmes will be handled through the third sector, the
private sector and local community groups. [...] It has been a
challenge to find the right balance, because in order to deliver
a system of payment by results and the AME/DEL model that uses
benefit savings to pay for the cost of the programmes that get
people back into work, we have needed to approach overall contracting
on a national basis. A number of representations have been made
by local authorities to be part of the commissioning process.
With respect to all of them, it is just not practical, because
in theory we would be trying to work with a very large number
of local authorities around the country to put together a complex
commissioning process with ultimately one financial path that
allows us to access and spend the money. It was simply impractical
to try to do it on a fragmented basis.
The Minister's expectation was that the selected
providers would form partnerships with councils at local level.
However, on our visit to Devon we heard from Torbay Council that
only one of the providers which had expressed an interest in the
contract for their area had so far made contact with the council.
28. With regard to other DWP priorities, the Minister
said that administration of the social fund would be an area in
which local government would be heavily involved in the future.
However, his expectation was that, rather than seeking to involve
local authorities to a greater degree, administration of benefits
will be done centrally when the universal credit is introduced:
"You could not create a national benefits system but devolve
it." Mr Grayling
elaborated on his Department's approach to localism:
I give you one internal example of what I seek
to do. I want to devolve much clearer power and responsibility
to Jobcentre Plus frontline staff. I want local managers to take
far more local initiatives in their own right. In our programmes
to try to address some of the employment issues, we are consciously
not prescribing from the centre what they should look like and
how they should be done; we are leaving local Jobcentre Plus managers
to take those decisions and to form local partnerships, whether
with employers or local authorities. [...] The localism agenda
does not have to be about saying, 'We will take powers and put
them in a different organisation'; sometimes it is about saying,
'We will interfere less from the centre.'
He said that the keystone of localism is "more
visible decision-making within a community", which could
include "greater discretion for the Jobcentre Plus manager
who, if I come looking for a job and need to buy a new suit for
an interview, has discretion to help me out."
This appears to us to be a description of individualisation rather
than localism; the response of the service to the client would
differ depending on the individual's circumstances, rather than
which part of the country they live in. Giving centrally-controlled
civil servants or contractors more freedom is not localism but
29. We asked the Minister for Decentralisation, Greg
Clark, how planned reforms in the health service, specifically
the transfer of responsibility for commissioning to general practitioners,
fit into a localist framework of giving more power to local councils
or to communities. He responded, "It takes away a level of
bureaucracy that was unaccountable in strategic health authorities
and PCTs and gives much more influence to local people as to which
GP they can go to, for example."
It seems therefore that accountability within local health services
will largely be exercised by patients through their choice of
GP, rather than through any more collective, formal or democratically-elected
mechanism. But the Minister insisted, "In years to come we
will look back to the devolution to GPs as one of the most empowering
things we have done for local people."
30. In other departments, flagship policies are more
readily identifiable as localism in action. We will return in
a later chapter to the question of how new, directly-elected Policing
and Crime Commissioners shed light on the Government's attitude
to local government, but the clear intent is to enable greater
discretion over policing at a sub-national level and to give people
a straightforward, democratic means of influencing the service
in their area. Local government is to be given new responsibilities
for public health, although the grants that accompany these responsibilities
will be ring-fenceda clear inconsistency given the Government's
eagerness to remove ring-fences around other items of local government
31. Allowing frontline workers to exercise their
professional judgement is good management practice. Facilitating
service choice and reducing bureaucracy may be laudable aims in
their own right as well. None of these things, however, sits comfortably
within a definition of localism. The Government is stretching
its uses of the term in too many, sometimes contradictory, directions.
Democratic accountability is privileged by some of these developments
but not others; local government is integral to some but appears
peripheral elsewhere; some policies contribute to integration
while others seem likely to entrench silos between services. We
will return to these contradictions later in this report.
32. Some policy areas appear to have been granted
an exemption from decentralisation. The priorities of the Department
for Work and Pensions appear particularly resistant to the arguments
for devolving power to local institutions, despite the eagerness
of local authorities to be more involved in shaping the response
to worklessness in their area. However valid the grounds, such
exemptions will necessarily limit the radicalism of the Government's
overall vision. They also give the impression that the definition
of localism is a matter only of tone and of convenience for the
Government as a whole, with each department permitted to ignore
localism or to adopt whichever strain of the policy will facilitate
its other goals. The views of those outside Government about how
the policy should be defined have not obviously been taken into
account. We recommend that the Government undertake a formal consultation
to gather the views of local government and other stakeholders
about what sort of localism they would like to see. The
Government did not make time for a white paper and consultation
prior to publication of the Localism Bill, but we believe there
is merit in such an exercise as it relates to the broader agenda
and its application across all policy areas.
33. The Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark,
described his role to us in December 2010:
People who have their fingers on the levers of
power at the moment often take them off reluctantly. You sometimes
need someone to prise them off. [...] This is a response to a
commission, from the Prime Minister to me, to make sure that every
government department is doing what the coalition set out to do,
which is to genuinely remove these silos and ensure that localitieswhere
it makes sense to do so, and there is a good opportunityhave
the ability to work together. It is my job to do that. [...] The
initial report that I wrote to the Prime Minister set out the
actions that we require of every department, and every department
now knows what it is required to do. The Prime Minister has asked
me to report in the summer of  on what each department is
doing radically to decentralise. It has been made very clear to
me that that report should show substantial achievements, rather
than a work in progress. Every department knows that.
Mr Clark's progress report to the Prime Minister
is due in July 2011. The Minister announced his intention to judge
departments against the six areas detailed in the 'essential guide',
and while he readily acknowledged that "some will do better
than others [...] there are leaders and laggards", he was
confident that every department would feel a strong pressure to
perform well on this, one of the Government's priorities.
As to what action he might be able to take in response, he said
"I cannot direct [departments] but I would hope to influence
them." He also
indicated that it is part of his role to share good practice between
34. We welcome the appointment of a Minister for
Decentralisation. We expect that it will be part of the Minister's
role to bring coherence and a sense of priorities to the Government's
localism agenda, and we look forward to the outcome of his first
report to the Prime Minister about progress in each department.
In the light of the evidence we have received, a clean bill of
health for every department would be a surprising outcome. We
anticipate taking the opportunity to scrutinise this and subsequent
reports, and questioning Ministers on it at future evidence sessions.
The response of other departments to the Minister's analysis will
be seen as a barometer of both the seriousness with which the
Government is pursuing localism, and the capacity of the Department
for Communities and Local Government to exert influence within
Whitehall. We return to the potential content of the Minister's
report in further recommendations.
35. The influence of the Department for Communities
and Local Governmentand by extension therefore the position
of the Minister for Decentralisation within ithas been
questioned by some. A recurring theme of the reports of our predecessors
in the last Parliament on the performance of that Department was
that it needed to make progress towards being a "big hitter"
in Whitehall. The evidence presented to this inquiry suggests
that the Department is still some way short of achieving the degree
of influence which will be necessary to deliver localism consistently
across Government. The Cabinet Office, with its clear cross-Government
remit and its closeness to the Prime Minister, might appear a
more natural, and more influential, home for a Minister with as
crucial a role as that of the Minister for Decentralisation.
36. For our part, we are reluctant yet to give up
on DCLG as a Department capable of driving the localism agenda
across Government. Nevertheless the Minister for Decentralisation
will need to make more clearly demonstrable progress in influencing
other government departments than he has done so far if questions
about his role and his position in DCLG are to be answered positively.
If such progress cannot be demonstrated, the Government will need
to reflect seriously on whether the role needs to be moved to
another, more influential, department such as the Cabinet Office.
Localism and efficiency
37. Support for localism, however defined, is usually
founded on one of two grounds: either that localism will produce
better services and outcomes, or that establishing government
as close to the people as possible is a worthwhile end in itself.
The practical argument leans on an expectation of greater service
efficiency and effectiveness, whether framed as the strengths
of local discretion or the deficiencies of governing from the
centre. The advantages of local discretion are thought to be:
- opportunities to tailor service
delivery to local needs and circumstances;
- decision-makers having better knowledge and understanding
of those needs;
- local co-ordination adding value to services;
- preventing the waste of resources on ineffective,
'one size fits all' models.
Central government, meanwhile, lacks first-hand knowledge
of service delivery, and of local conditions and the concerns
of local citizens. Many believe that centralisation stifles innovation
and causes councils to neglect their electorate.
Professors George Jones and John Stewart argued that decentralisation
is necessary to allow national government to focus its resources
on issues that can only be dealt with at the national level.
38. Not all our witnesses were convinced that decentralisation
is inevitably "the key to more effective public service delivery",
however. There has
been little research into the impact of decentralisation on the
effectiveness of service delivery.
Lancashire County Council commented that, while "it is generally
assumed that the dynamism of decentralisation is somehow more
efficient than the current model",
Localist arguments may require more robust evidence
to counter claims that centralisation generates economies of scale
and is therefore inherently more efficient. There is also no clear
evidence that decentralised, devolved systems would better target
cuts. An obvious objection is that this would bring narrow self-interests
to the fore and disadvantage the less 'sharp elbowed' amongst
The National Council of Voluntary Organisations cautioned
that, as a sole improvement mechanism, localism has its limits:
"positive change will not come simply through transferring
services from one sector to another or a change in the level at
which decisions are taken."
39. Several organisations pointed out that the needs
of some client groups would almost certainly be less well-served
by a 'hyper-local' system, in which all services were determined
at or below the level of the local authority. NASS, an organisation
representing voluntary and private sector special schools, argued
that regional-level planning is the most efficient way of catering
for low-incidence special educational needs; if local authorities
attempted to manage their own individual arrangements, bureaucratic
costs would undoubtedly escalate.
The Women's Resource Centre also felt that an excess of localism
could result in duplication and atomisation of services; access
to a wider pool of expertise, better partnership working, and
consistent access to services regardless of location could all
40. Ralph Michell, representing the Association of
Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, added that if commissioning
were devolved to too low a level it would become unfeasible to
commission effectively for people with low-density needs, and
that "the nightmare scenario for a lot of regional or national
third-sector organisations is having to deal with hundreds of
different commissioners who commission in completely different
Colin Barrow summarised the basis on which decisions could be
allocated to different levels of government:
big organisations do try to systematise things
in ways that mean that they don't respond to local difference,
so therefore you'll get one solution that will be very efficient
to procure. As long as you know that the solution's the right
one, it's the best thing to do it centrally. If the solution may
be different in different parts of the country, city or area,
it's much better to make that decision locally with a group of
people who are sitting around in somebody's front room, as you
put it, trying to work out how best to do it. They will know how
best to do it. They will not want to do it by way of some vast
centralised procurement department. They will want to do it local,
and local will mean cheap.
41. However, Cllr Barrow also said that "the
messy nonsense of democracy" was likely to be a less efficient,
if ultimately more satisfactory, way of delivering something than
simply "install[ing] civil servants to do the job".
'Efficiency' may have to take a back seat to genuine involvement
of local residents and organisations in decision-making and service
delivery; the Community Development Foundation noted that "citizen
engagement is not without costs, and involving a diverse group
of local people can be slower than centralised decision making".
42. The Centre for Public Service Partnerships recalled
experiments in local neighbourhood management
in the early 1990s were seen as successful by some local people,
but also led to some confused accountability and higher costs,
partly linked to supporting and building capacity in different
community groups, seen as necessary to ensure involvement.
Lorraine Roberts of the London Civic Forum told us,
"I don't think that power comes without money, and transferring
power into the hands of the community is going to require some
resources to make sure that it goes into everyone's hands, so
everyone has an opportunity".
The need for resources does not end when a group of local people
have come together to identify what needs to be done in their
area; community plans have to be turned into concrete actions
if people are not to be left frustrated.
43. Community enterprises and voluntary sector groupsparticularly
small oneswill require time, flexibility, support and resources
if they are to take on new responsibilities.
The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) told us that local
authorities would be fearful that "the cost of stimulating
the market of community involvement and of supporting it will
offset any savings that have been realised through divestment
of services and assets".
Especially in neighbourhoods where the voluntary sector is currently
underdeveloped, the need for capacity-building might place a substantial
demand on local authorities. This theme is explored in more detail
in Chapter 6.
44. Direct democracy can be costly, too. Cllr Ben
Adams of Staffordshire County Council told us:
We have just had a referendum under the 1970s
Local Government Acts, with the support of six town councillors.
They got less than 16% of the vote on the referendum and it cost
them £14,000. That is not a good way to spend public money
and it will not get public support when that is made clear.
45. Opinion is divided about whether it is wise to
attempt a decisive shift towards a localist system at the same
time as public expenditure is being significantly reduced. Local
government consultant Henry Peterson warned that devolving power
in such a way as to make local bodies accountable for the consequences
of reduced budgets risked "forever associat[ing] greater
local autonomy and place-based budgets with much increased austerity".
He considered that "a critical window of opportunity has
been missed" by not putting in place the expertise, institutional
capacity and governance frameworks to support integrated decentralisation
when public sector resources were plentiful.
Lorraine Roberts of London Civic Forum commented that "propelling
localism in an arena of such austerity could be tripping the toddler
up before it gets to run".
46. Simon Parker, Director of the New Local Government
Network, commented that the localist cause would be harmed "if
it is seen as localising the chop". He continued to say that
"I do not think that is what will happen because, if I look
at what a lot of local authorities are doing, they are starting
to look at how they transform their services and how to innovate
and do things differently".
Councils' ability to do just that in the current context was questioned,
however, by Lambeth Council Leader Steve Reed, who told us that
the frontloading of reductions in local authority budgets "doesn't
give us the space we need to invest to transform".
47. Stian Westlake of NESTA, however, believed that
financial crisis in the public sector "could be an opportunity
to do things in new ways". He cited the example of Aberdeen
City Council, which he said had faced its own financial crisis
in the recent past but under strong leadership was able not only
to restore its financial position, but to engage more deeply with
local communities in the process.
Cllr Richard Kemp also thought there was an opportunity to be
grasped in less than ideal circumstances: "My view is we
shouldn't waste a good financial crisis. Let's use the lack of
availability of money to really power change in a way that we
haven't been able to for the last 10, 15, 20 years".
48. The Government must be wary of assuming that
decentralisation will reduce public sector costs in the short
or medium term. It should not be quick to declare localism a failed
experiment if efficiency savings do not instantly materialise.
Indeed, the chances of localism transforming the way the country
is governed may be hampered at the outset by a lack of resources
to prime the pump by building community capacity. Localism is
a goal worth pursuing no matter what the fiscal circumstances,
but realism is needed about how fundamental change will be achieved
without resources to support it.
14 For example, Q 216, Ev 198-9. Back
Q 3 Back
Q 2 Back
Q 2 Back
Q 2 Back
Ev 268 Back
Q 487 Back
Ev 227 Back
Ev 165 Back
Q 496 Back
Ev 268 Back
HM Government, Building a stronger civil society: a strategy
for voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises,
October 2010, p.3 Back
Q 482 Back
Ev 151, w145 Back
Ev 160 Back
Q 492 Back
Q 343 Back
Q 343 Back
Ev 168 Back
Ev w5 Back
Q 162 Back
Q 392 Back
Ev 152 Back
Q 269 Back
Q 322 Back
Q 381 Back
Qq 390, 392, 396 Back
Q 400 Back
Q 392 Back
Q 406 Back
Q 403 Back
Q 434 Back
Q 501 Back
Q 502 Back
Oral evidence, 21 December 2010, HC 699-i, Q 43 Back
Qq 496, 499 Back
Q 497 Back
Q 499 Back
Ev 231, 247 Back
Ev 231, 247 Back
Ev 247 Back
Ev 189 Back
Ev 138, 156 Back
Ev 138 Back
Ev 231, w13 Back
Ev 138 Back
Ev 251 Back
Ev 160 Back
Ev w17 Back
Ev w79 Back
Q 135 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 10 Back
Ev 195 Back
Ev w215 Back
Q 194 Back
For example, Ev 242, w76, w145. Back
Ev 151 Back
Q 274 Back
Ev 149 Back
Ev 145 Back
Q 212 Back
Q 367-8 Back
Q 23 Back
Q 182 Back
Q 21 Back