Localism, Localism, Localism

The Localism Bill entered the legislative arena on 13th December 2010 and is one of the key pieces of legislation of the Coalition’s agenda. It includes changes to social housing policies, giving greater power to local authorities including to the Mayor of London. However, it appears to be attracting criticism all the time, with even some of its own peers attacking the premise of the bill.

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles - what price localism? Photograph: Eddie Mulholland: Telegraph

The Third Report of Session 2010-2012 in its summary stated that “The Government has announced its intention to instigate a radical devolution of power to local level, giving new powers and opportunities to councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.” Essentially the Localism Bill is an attempt to dramatically alter the role of local government in what appears a revolutionary attempt at decentralisation. The summary boasts a cross-party support but seemingly avoids the widespread criticism that the Bill has attacted.

The straightforward decentralisation of powers from central to local government has been lost in a phrase that requires 31 points and 14 pages of ‘summary’ to define. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Bill has been lambasted by Labour.

Hazel Blears, a former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has stated that the Localism Bill will cause a ‘demolition’ of communities. Ms. Blears has astutely suggested a demarcation of MPs who genuinely believe in the premise of empowering local communities, and the more pessimistic, or potentially more realistic view that the Bill must be framed within deficit reduction measures and an ideological shrinking of the state.

Labour has expressed worries that this is merely a privatisation of local authorities, exposing council services and assets to private companies. Ms. Blears continued her criticism by agreeing with the principle of Bill, but the shabby reality of its practice is something that she fundamentally disagrees with.

It comes as an even greater surprise that one of the Coalition’s Conservative Peer Lord Jenkin has attacked the Localism Bill for not being local enough. Lord Jenkin questioned the premise of Bill considering its length and detailed directions to show that the power of Central Government appears to being going up rather than down. This is something already highlighted by Labour who claim that the Localism Bill gives the Secretary of State Eric Pickles 100 new powers. However, the government’s Communities and Local Government spokesman Earl Attlee has attacked Lord Jenkin’s suggested changes to referendums on excessive council tax. Earl Attlee agreed that such changes would provide a “purer localism than the government’s approach”, but admitted “there would be grave practical difficulties”. This appears to be a statement which sums up how much of a sham the Localism Bill has become. The purity of the doctrine of localism seems to be acting as a smokescreen preventing actual reform to local government.

The line constantly reiterated by Eric Pickles is the importance of ending big government and empowering local communities. However, it is difficult to deny that Labour’s view of the Bill as a ‘sham’ and these 100 new powers appear to be increasing the stranglehold of big government on local authorities as opposed to loosening it.

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Posted on July 16, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Parliamentary Business and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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