The Latest on Localism

There was a general consensus that localism and devolution have slipped down political agendas lately

Ailbhe McNabola

Head of Policy and Research

Power to Change and Locality have joined forces to host a Commission of the future of Localism.

It is five years since the Localism Act came into force and the idea behind this Commission is to look back over progress in those five years, but more importantly to look forward and gather views on how the localism agenda can go further.

The Commission is chaired by Lord Kerslake – former Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government, now President of the Local Government Association – and brings together community organisations, parliamentarians, local government leaders, and policy experts.

It will meet three times over the course of 2017, before sharing conclusions drawn from all the contributions it has received.

What we heard

The Commission recently met in Bristol to hear evidence from three speakers, and discuss the future of devolution in particular with the assembled audience.

Dr. David Sweeting of Bristol University talked about the new ‘Metro Mayors’ and the possible implications for localism. Mayors, his research has shown, tend to be a centralising force (more of his thoughts on this here); Penny Evans of Knowle West Media Centre talked about how an organisation like theirs responds to local need, which has meant working with young people and branching into housing; and Peter McFadyen of Frome Town Council shared his view with the Commissioners that local councillors should be facilitators as much as decision-makers, because real knowledge sits with the local community.

Afterwards, a few themes emerged from the discussion – about redefining (or at least questioning) the definition of ‘local’, a feeling that devolution and localism to date have focused on higher levels of governance, such as combined or local authorities, but not reached down to lower levels. The group felt that much more was needed at a local level.

Lord Kerslake neatly summed it up, describing how power deficits at various levels of governance cause each level to reach down and take power from the level beneath them. And I think it’s fair to say that there was a general consensus that localism and devolution have slipped down political agendas lately.

Resolving divisions

Unsurprising, perhaps, but the group felt that devolving more power and decision-making to communities and localities was a means to resolve some of the divisive issues that have been laid bare in British society over the past year.

Naïve or visionary – you decide.