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Localism Bill leaves ‘Big Questions’ unanswered

Authors: Jonathan Wright Jonathan Wright

13 December 2010

Devolution is a positive thing.  In principle it enables local people to affect real change within their communities and local area, empowering people who have local knowledge with the ability to manage and deliver services efficiently and appropriately. 

 

Today marks a quantum leap in government – from centralisation to community politics .The Localism Bill sets out the legislative foundation for this change.  Both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives believe that it provides the backbone of what will be the government’s (semantics aside) ‘Big Society’.

 

Local government will be at the forefront of this change.  The Coalition proposes new directly elected mayors for the 12 largest cities outside of London, changes to the planning system that give residents more of a voice,  and the ability for communities and local groups to buy local assets.

 

However, big questions remain.  Early analysis of the finance settlement for local government indicates the differences in budget cuts.  Hackney will lose 8.9% of its spending power in 2011/2012 compared to 0.6% in Richmond.

 

The Coalition is committed to rebalancing the UK economy.  Part of this is a rhetorical commitment to promote growth in those places that will be hit hardest by public sector cuts and have weak private sectors.  It is not yet known if the market based strategies and incentives proposed thus far will achieve progress towards this objective.  Should places with low employment rates build more homes?  Will proposed changes to business rate retention favour places with strong latent private sectors? 

 

Critics of decentralisation in practice cite reduced budgets and ‘unfunded mandates’ as key barriers to success as well as differences in the capacities and capabilities of local governments to deliver.  One outcome of this may be growing geographical disparities in the UK.  It is uncertain whether greater local autonomy will lead to greater overall growth and prosperity for UK society.