A short guide to localism

Charlotte Stuffins blogs about policy. Charlotte no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.

What is localism?

Localism is a key part of the Coalition’s effort to decentralise power. It is about transferring power from central government to local authorities and more broadly, about how communities can be more empowered and have a bigger say on the issues that matter to them. The Government have put this concept into a legislative format in the form of the Localism Bill. You can read the full text of the Bill or take a look at the Government’s plain English version.

If you don’t have time to read the official literature, take a look at our briefing on the Localism Bill.  Alternatively, read on for a very quick overview of how we envisage the localism agenda to play out.

What is the next step?

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Localism Bill is still on track to receive Royal Assent (become law) in November. Beyond that, it would appear that the localism agenda is here to stay and here at NCVO we want to make sure that we are in the best possible position to assist the sector in reaping the benefits of this shift in power, as well as to protect against any difficulties in its implementation.

Want to have your say?

As part of our on-going policy review, we want to hear our members’ views on localism. So, we have just launched a Policy Review Yammer group. Yammer is a new online collaboration tool, which has an easy to follow Facebook-style interface. You can just drop in and out whenever you like, browse the posts and chip in your thoughts. Please email Matt if you want an invite to the discussion!

There is also a questionnaire on our website, which should take no more than 10 minutes to complete. If you don’t have any time to spare, just tweet your views on localism to @ncvocharlotte.

We look forward to hearing your views on localism!

How will localism be delivered?

The Government has identified six essential actions required to deliver decentralisation:

  1. Lift the burden of bureaucracy
  2. Empower communities to do things their way
  3. Increase local control of public finance
  4. Diversify the supply of public services
  5. Open up government to public scrutiny
  6. Strengthen accountability to local people

Of these six, the first two are seen by the Government as the most fundamental because they are essential to the start of the decentralisation process.

Firstly, the main mechanism by which the Government hopes to reduce bureaucracy is through the removal of the cost and control of unnecessary red tape and regulation. An example of this can be seen in the recent removal of National Indicators and Ring-Fencing of revenue.

Secondly, proposals such as the Community Right to Buy or Community Right to Challenge form the basis of the second aspiration: to empower communities by creating rights for people to get involved in their local area. There are also the Neighbourhood Planning proposals, which allow communities to put forward planning submissions to their local authority.

Action number three is concerned with local government finance and the devolution of budget control to the most appropriate level. Number four is concerned with diversifying the supply of public services, through which the Government hopes to end public sector monopolies on service provision. Again, this is expressed through the Right to Challenge proposals.

The final two actions are concerned with increasing the transparency of government finances and decision making.  This has been put into practice by opening up Council’s financial data online, as well as through the introduction of powers for residents to instigate referenda on issues affecting their communities.

What does this mean for the sector?

Localism has been an agenda that NCVO has broadly welcomed and we support this new right for communities. Since the vast majority of relationships between the sector and the government are at a local level, it is hoped that the flexibility and control that these proposals bring to local areas will allow them to respond best to the needs of local communities.

What is more, if an organisation receives statutory funding, the power to distribute grants and contracts (as well as the decision to cut funding) lies with local authorities. By opening up councils to public scrutiny (such as the decision to make data on all spending on goods and services over £500 available online), it is hoped that local authorities will be more accountable and transparent. This should make it easier for VCOs to question and possibly even challenge specific spending decisions.

But, it is important to note that some of the steps (such as the removal of National Indicators to reduce bureaucracy) could have a negative impact on the sector. Ideally, partnerships should not depend on formally imposed mechanisms and partnerships tend to work best when both the VCS and local government come together to share skills, knowledge and aspirations. Although the way in which these reforms will play out in reality (and the effects they may have) during this transitional period is, as yet, unclear.

Charlotte Stuffins

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