Legislative boldness is only half the story

Author: Alex Thomson, Localis (in the House Magazine)   |  

This is certainly a government keen to get on with things but, as befits a prime minister who made localism a key plank of his election platform, activity at CLG has been particularly pronounced.

The department is currently steering through Parliament the Localism Bill – a behemoth of legislation with more than 450 pages of provisions covering areas of policy as diverse as neighbourhood planning, local referendums, social housing tenure and finance, mayoral development corporations and even, in the form
of the General Power of Competence, the statutory underpinning of local government itself. Though I would argue that ministers could afford to be bolder still with some of the policies in the bill, it is anything but timid.

But the bill is far from the whole story. The department’s Local Government Resource Review will, I expect, advocate the local retention of business rates, hopefully along the lines of the model advocated in Localis’s recent report, The Rate Escape. This would be a major step forward for localism, and at long last give councils a real incentive to help drive forward the national economy.

Despite progress in these and many other areas, it has certainly not been plain sailing for Eric Pickles and his ministerial team. As ever, cutting budgets has led to no shortage of criticism – although most in local government knew that cuts were coming regardless of who held the reins in Whitehall.

For all the positives, one area of particular disappointment has been community budget pilots, which have the potential to achieve the rare double whammy of providing better, more joinedup public services at less cost to the Exchequer. However, I fear that the many vested interests for whom a more co-ordinated state sector represents a personal threat are all too easily winning the day, so far. A substantial injection of political will is needed soon, lest an excellent idea withers and dies.

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