If, like me, you're slightly vague on how the Localism Act 2011 changes the nature of local government, it's worth reading the Plain English Guide, browsing the communities.gov.uk website or even (good luck) read the Act itself.
This post isn't about the Localism Act. It's about what kind of thing we might want local government to be.
I think this is timely, because, given the widespread public indifference to the Act (citation needed!), I've got a strong suspicion that there's a greater disparity right now than for many years between:
(i) public perceptions of local government;
(ii) the functions and powers of local government as laid out in legislation;
(iii) the customs and practices of local government.
To be honest, though, you're probably better off talking about "what kind of thing we might want local government to be" with all those councillors who grapple with this question day-by-day. But I'm still trying to think things through; hence this post.
I'd like to distinguish three types of localism.
1. Robotic Localism
|"I think you ought to know|
I'm feeling very depressed"
2. Autonomous Localism
|"Greasing the wheels"|
3. Delegation Localism
|"The first rule of management is delegation.|
Don't try and do everything yourself because you can't."
By the way, if you liked the caption for the above diagram, you might like to know it's a quote from that great sage Anthea Turner (!) Perhaps you might prefer "Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way". That's Ronald Reagan.
Concluding remarksI think it's clear that, in broad brush terms, England is moving away from a kind of Robotic Localism that unashamedly wanted the whole country to receive the best services currently available ("‘We have lived too long with a system good for the few but not for the majority") and so set national targets ("It is not an arrogant government that chooses priorities, it's an irresponsible government that fails to choose."). And it is now moving towards a kind of Delegation Localism ("The Big Society", "core principles for modernising public services: choice, decentralisation, diversity, fairness and accountability").
It's also fairly clear that there are problems with Delegation Localism, particularly the limitations on local accountability and the limitations on control over what local services are funded and how.
There are also obvious problems with Autonomous Localism, but it seems to me there has been a lack of public debate about what type of localism we actually want, and how the particularly limitations are to be addressed.
Question for the reader: what other types of localism should we consider?