Chris White reports: a radical approach to localism

I have long thought that Party policy making has tended to be elitist and untransparent. In my own little universe – FPC’s Localism working group – I am keen to change this.

So the papers of the group are now being shared with anyone who put a card in for the Localism debate in Liverpool.

And I will update party members and activists in places like Lib Dem Voice.

We met on 6 October and looked at a new draft of the paper. Our previous thinking is now deeply influenced by the change in the political landscape, not least the Localism Bill due to be published next month.

Accordingly, members of the working group feel that any references to requirements on councils or councillors should go. So there should not be a requirement for councils to provide training or for councillors to represent all constituents. Nor indeed a pledge to review the system of council allowances.

If you want a mayor: have one. If you want the committee system (and be careful of what you wish for) have it. These are all matters for councils and the communities they serve.

We also talked about ‘atomisation’.

In my county the fire service is concerned about the outcomes for disaffected young people. It is easy for it to develop a coherent policy for young people because the fire service is controlled by the county council, not shifted off into a single function authority.

But that is the exception. In most places the fire service has to talk to the police, which has to talk to the council, which has to talk to the health service and so on. Local Strategic Partnerships make them all sit round the same table and try and have the same agenda. Not always with much success.

Surely it would be far easier if councils were in charge of all these functions, either by delivering them or by leading their development?
There is a hint of this in the Government’s health white paper. But we can go further.

Is it right that schools become independent consumers of state money accountable to no-one locally? Or that the police and social services develop their policies separately and then meet occasionally to exchange notes?

Why actually is anyone afraid of local government taking on ALL the services which are delivered locally?

There are two objections.

First: in some places the ruling party appears to be in power for ever, sometimes with huge majorities. The answer, of course, is proportional representation in local government elections, as agreed (again) at the autumn conference. Objection dismissed.

Second: not everything local is local government. Local government does not have all the answers: local business, local communities and local neighbourhoods are all part of the localist landscape.

This turns out to be a much more tricky objection to local government dominance and will certainly keep the Localism working group busy over the next few weeks.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Liberal Eye 19th Oct '10 - 2:49pm

    “I have long thought that Party policy making has tended to be elitist and untransparent.”

    Quite so. Congratulations on attempting to make it a little more open but could it not be even more open (except to trolls, of course)?

  • Andrew Duffield 19th Oct '10 - 10:07pm

    No localisation without choice in taxation!

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