- Approaches to empowering local communities put in place by the coalition Government (and continuing under the current administration) are inadequate.
- Devolution is in danger of suppressing localism rather than allowing it to flourish.
- We offer specific recommendations for the Government to refresh its approach to localist empowerment.
Localism has become a potent idea in UK public policy over the last 20 years. It is a term with no single meaning, whose flexibility has endeared it to politicians across the political spectrum who have used it to rebuke a centralised, distant, bureaucratic status quo. But in an age of dramatic devolution, what do we want from localism?
The RSA’s People Shaped Localism report argues that although the term is imprecise set against concepts such as decentralisation and devolution, it holds a valuable set of values and perspectives that have never been more important for local leaders who want to nurture collective inventiveness and resilience in austere times.
Localism’s elements include an assumption that a sense of local identity, belonging and connectedness are crucial to subjective wellbeing, and to life chances. The localist perspective sees decision-making about the allocation of public resources as likely to be most creative, efficient and legitimate if taking place as close as possible to those who are materially affected.
People Shaped Localism looks at how New Labour attempted New Localism in the face of tenacious centralism. Moving on, the report asks whether the coalition found better ways of making localism a reality through Community Rights. We conclude that given the dramatic changes taking place through sub-regional devolution deals, the Government needs to refresh its approach to localist empowerment, and explain far more clearly how the its vision for devolution and its aspiration for localism are mutually reinforcing.
Our specific recommendations include:
- Significantly strengthen Community Right to Bid, drawing on the Scottish government’s Community Right to Buy.
- Review the working of Community Right to Challenge, with a view to removing unnecessary exceptions.
- Ensure that follow-up support is available to groups that have undertaken Community Planning and wish to maintain their involvement in local decision-making and capacity building.
- Consider funding for volunteer development, with incentives for localities where demography and deprivation present particularly high barriers to greater involvement.
Find out more about the People Shaped Localism project