May newsletter: the future of localism, local elections 2016 and EU referendum

May newsletter: the future of localism, local elections 2016 and EU referendum

Who will grasp the mantle of localism?

For those of you who have not already heard the news, our Chief Executive Alex Thomson is leaving Localis next month for pastures new. We are currently recruiting to find someone to fill Alex’s shoes – if you would be interested in taking on this exciting opportunity to drive forward the mantle of localism, or know someone who would be interested in this golden opportunity, you can find out further details here. Alex wrote a piece for ConservativeHome reflecting on developments in localism during his time at Localis and the prospects for further devolution of powers:

With the relentless pace of today’s news cycles it is often easy to forget that a Conservative has been back in Number 10 for just six years. Labour had more than double that time at the helm, and weren’t hampered by having to trim their fiscal sails. Quite the opposite, in fact. But unlike Tony Blair’s government, which the man himself later acknowledged was unduly cautious in their first term, David Cameron has not been afraid of reform in striving to put a Conservative imprint right across the range of government policy. And this determination has borne fruit, with the shape and contours of the state shifting since 2010, and in few areas more radically than local government.

In opposition David Cameron was strikingly clear that the “Conservative party wants nothing less than radical decentralisation, to reach every corner of the country.” And while as a localist I believe that the current Government could and should go further still, the extent of change achieved in the last six years is impressive.

True to his word, the Localism Act featured in David Cameron’s first Queen’s Speech and put in place a range of policies that pushed power closer to all of us who live in England. For instance, the General Power of Competence allowed councils to break free from the stifling corset of prescribed powers and expand their horizons, permitting them to do anything they want, only except those things that are explicitly proscribed by law from doing – just like you and me. Regional Development Agencies went and in their place are the more nimble Local Enterprise Partnerships. And the planning system was reformed to give local areas a much greater say, in particular through the hugely powerful catalyst for community engagement that is neighbourhood planning.

These were all 2010 manifesto commitments, but the localism agenda has continued to develop and advance. First via City Deals; secondly, and more substantially, via Devolution Deals in which local areas across the country have been transferred significant powers and freedoms, most excitingly so in Greater Manchester. Perhaps most radically, the complete transfer of business rates to local areas will be a hugely powerful step towards a genuinely devolved and financially empowered England.

Of course the last few years have also seen local authorities subject to severe financial pressure – indeed more than the rest of the public sector (and much more than local leaders would like). But the sector as a whole has done a remarkable job at keeping services going, operating increasingly entrepreneurially, with public satisfaction levels in most areas staying the same or in some cases rising.

And the localism agenda is by no means finished yet. Indeed, I believe it will provide one of the key dividing lines in British politics in coming years. On one side are those, like me, who see further devolution as an absolutely critical element in ensuring that we have thriving local economies with high quality, sustainable public services right across the country. And on the other are those who argue that local government just isn’t up to it and that Whitehall needs to exercise a firm hand in controlling how local areas are run.

Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you agree with me that while the foundations of a radically reformed local state have been laid, there is still much further to go, and plenty of questions to be answered: what else should be devolved? To where and who? By what process? If so, perhaps you would like to run a think tank that focuses on exactly these issues?

Sitting in my chair over the past five plus years it has been a privilege to be part of the public debate around this subject and I hope that Localis’ contributions have been of use to people in local and central government. I am certainly proud of all the work we have done. But with pastures new awaiting me, this leaves a vacancy for the right candidate to take over the running of Localis and to help shape the devolution debate in the years to come. If you or someone you know might be interested in this golden opportunity, you can find out further details here.

Local elections 2016

Many readers will have faced the challenge of local elections earlier this month. The results were broadly steady as she goes, with only a small number of councils changing hands and relatively small gains or losses for all of the political parties contesting the elections – although Localis researcher Dominic Leigh suggests that the Lib Dems’ performance could herald the start of a ‘Lib Dem Fightback’.

The media have inevitably focused their attention on London, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan elected as Boris Johnson’s successor as Mayor of London. It will be a challenge for Sadiq to maintain the public profile that Boris had in the role, but does not seem to be wasting time in moving forward with his policy agenda, announcing the introduction of the one-hour bus ‘hopper’ fare in September within days of the election. Localis research fellow Jack Airey has considered whether fresh leadership at City Hall might lead to the establishment of a more powerful London mayoralty.

Next year we will see directly elected mayors introduced for Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, the North East, Tees Valley, the West Midlands and North Midlands. With rumours that Labour MP Andy Burnham is considering standing for Mayor of Greater Manchester, these elections hopefully attract more attention for areas outside of the capital and sharpen the focus on the case for devolving more powers across the country.

What will the EU referendum result mean for local government?

With the EU referendum edging ever closer, we at Localis have put together a couple of blogs on what a Remain or Leave vote would mean for local government. Considering the compatibility of being a localist with the support for the EU, Localis’ Dominic Leigh and Ben Ramanauskas put the cases for and against EU membership respectively.

Dominic makes the case that “Brexit… could threaten the billions of pounds of funding local areas currently receive from the EU for investment in local projects that support jobs and growth… My question to supporters of localism is: Why would you want to put local authorities’ access to this crucial funding at risk by pulling out of the EU?” You can read Dominic’s piece in full here.

Ben makes the case that “far from being worse off financial, the economies of local areas will benefit if the UK leaves the EU… [moreover] it is surely the case that funds for local governments should be managed, commissioned, and delivered on a local level and not by the bureaucratic and inefficient EU.” Read Ben’s piece in full here.

Works in progress

Variable housing markets

We are currently working on a research project which considers the variation of housing markets across the country, what that means for national policy, and what a more local approach might look like. The project, supported by Lloyds Banking Group, will include three roundtable events across the country and will culminate in a pamphlet to be published in mid-August.

Healthcare reform

We are partnering with KPMG on a major piece of thought leadership looking at what a more locally-oriented care system in England will look like and how it will be managed. The report will consider how a more local approach could hold the key to making advances in prevention, integration, personalisation and financial sustainability. The report will be launched at the LGA conference in July.

The importance of cash to local economic growth

We will shortly publishing a report on the importance of cash to local economies and communities, in conjunction with Cardtronics. With the increasing prevalence of online shopping and new payment methods such as contactless cards, we are focusing on the role of cash now and in the coming decades and what options are available to policymakers to help maintain the availability of cash in the long-term.

Whole council approaches to transformation

On behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA) we are currently conducting a research project that will be published in the next few weeks on the variety of models local authorities have used when taking a whole-council approach to transformation. This includes models such as cooperative, commissioning and entrepreneurial approaches.

The Future of London

We are currently partnering with the think tank Bright Blue to produce a collection of essays, which will consider how changes in transport, culture, family life, finance, housing, health and a whole range of different areas will alter the way Londoners live their lives in the middle of the twenty-first century. We have recruited the stellar lineup of leading thinkers, decision makers and industry champions who will propose radical, original ideas for London’s future in our essay collection.

Upcoming events

Flying blind: is the North West being ignored in the aviation capacity debate?

The Government will announce its decision on the location of a new airport runway in the south east of England later this year. Insufficient attention in the accompanying policy debate has been paid to what economic impact the decision might have on other parts of the country, including the North West, despite the Government’s vocal commitment to catalysing enhanced economic growth via the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Next week Localis will be hosting a roundtable to consider how the North West will be affected by the Government’s policy on aviation capacity in the South East. The event will be held in conjunction with Gatwick Airport.

Future of London Conference

In the next few months we and Bright Blue will be hosting a half-day conference to launch an edited collection of essays from a stellar line-up of major public figures. The conference will consist of a keynote speech, several break-out panel discussions (on London’s economy, infrastructure and life) and a networking lunch.


With conference season soon approaching, we are currently putting together our programmes for the LGA and party conferences. If you are interested in working in partnership with Localis at these events, please click here to read about how you can work with us further or email to discuss potential collaboration.

‘Home truths: national housing policy isn’t working – time for a localist approach?’

The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. A lack of affordable housing has resulted in many families being unable to afford to buy their first home and many are spending an increasing large proportion of their incomes on rents. It is time to ask if a nationwide, one size fits all approach to housing policy is delivering. Is it now time to consider a more localist approach? Localis with be hosting three roundtable events in Bristol, Birmingham and the South East (location TBC) in July, in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group, to bring together senior representatives from across local government and the wider housing community to discuss this important issue.