Covid-19 shows the benefits of Localism

As Charles Kennedy once said:

Liberal Democrats are the traditional exponents of localism. Localism is inextricably linked to our core values.

The belief in devolved power, strong local government, and a plurality of societal actors working together to enhance democratic accountability and maximising opportunity for innovation and experimentation lie at the heart of liberalism.

The population of not just the United Kingdom, but the whole world seem to be confined to a particular location. We are unable to take flights across the globe, or even visit friends and relatives in nearby towns. Families, businesses, institutions, and society are pulling together like never before. With this in mind, it seems like localism will never get a better workout than during the isolation phase of the covid-19 pandemic.  With this, there will be opportunities to observe how individuals, families, communities, businesses, and arms of government go about their day-to-day lives and jobs to make society function and altruistically help those in need.

We are already seeing networks of volunteers ready to help the vulnerable; MPs and local councillors working tirelessly answering questions from many of their constituents ranging from the Government’s furlough schemes to the importance of self-isolation. But it is noticeable that constituents are adjusting already and making choices that benefit not just themselves as individuals, but their families and society.

The NHS is regularly seen as a monolith – a stone structure in the thralls of central government with a perception of it lacking innovation. Covid-19 has proved this to be a wrongful assumption. The NHS through the pandemic has innovated significantly. Perhaps the best example of this is the creation of the ‘pop-up tent’, otherwise known as the ‘Aerosol Shield’ developed by the University of Birmingham’s medical and dental departments and manufactured by Airquee, a company that makes medical equipment for the health services. The Aerosol Shield provides a protective barrier between healthcare professionals and patients, acting as a last line of defence for the healthcare professionals.  This acceptance of localism, through relying on local contacts, and innovating cross-faculty in a time efficient manner, raised standards and provides national and international solutions.

It is obvious that markets are not operating at full efficiency during the pandemic, and it would be highly unlikely for them to operate at full-efficiency for some time, even after the pandemic has ended. It will therefore put the onus on local councils and local political officers such as Police and Crime Commissioners to help decide key budgets and taxation levels, and construct audits and improvements to deliver quality to individuals as the customer.

Covid-19 has also reduced the amount of unnecessary bureaucracy faced by frontline public sector workers and some private businesses. The scale of the pandemic and the relatively quick time it has taken to disrupt society has forced agents to adapt quickly and circumnavigate usual channels and procedures to help deliver quality service to society. Supermarkets have adapted opening hours, restaurants not offering delivery have made the change seamless to increase such function, and local services such as waste collection have had to streamline procedures and costs to adapt.

Going forward in the years to come, it would be wise to reflect on how we reverted to localism during the pandemic to help enable and support, not only the public and private sector, but also society as a whole.


* Oli Dixon is not a member of a political party, but is economically and socially liberal.

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  • Richard Underhill. 16th Apr '20 - 3:37pm

    Times headline 15/4/2020 page one, compliments to those who complement each other
    but what does affordable mean?

  • It is hard to see how the LibDem election campaign of 2019 paid any respect to our “tradition of localism”, either in theory or in practice.

  • I am afraid that what I see is a highly centralised country where decisions are being made centrally and a communication strategy being developed to tell people what the government wants them to be told.
    In the meanwhile there is a continuation of the strategy which was so successful in the general election, except that there are daily party political broadcasts.
    Granted there are examples of people helping others in time of need, but that is always true.
    There is of course a plan, but we are not going to be told what it is.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Apr '20 - 1:14pm

    Covid 19 has provided society a chance to regain its sense of localism. You only have to walk down your street to see people chatting. We must do what we can to ensure that this opportunity is built on with more localism in every sense of the word from sourcing our food to working and volunteering in our locality.

  • Rodney Watts 19th Apr '20 - 10:27am

    On a political note, totally agree with Ian. It was whilst living in Brum and involved in community youth and antiracist activities that I first joined the Liberal Party in 1970.
    Also, Oli thank you for bringing attention to the work being done in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University Whilst I was engaged in research there in the 1970’s we were partly responsible for the introduction of the varieties of rape now grown to produce oils low in erucic acid, which is cardiotoxic.

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