The Government’s long-awaited Decentralisation and Localism Bill is expected on Thursday (December 9th). The main benefits of the Bill would be to empower local people, free local government from central and regional control give local communities a real share in local growth and provide a more efficient and more local planning system. Initially scheduled for publication in late November, the Bill was pushed back as a result of the busy parliamentary timetable.
The main elements of the Bill are the granting of new powers to communities to help save local facilities and services threatened with closure, allowing communities the right to bid to take over local state-run services, giving greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups and creating new trusts that would make it simpler for communities to provide homes for local people.
On 29th November ILC UK, with support from Arup, Anchor and Audley held a debate on the impact of localism on the homes and communities of older people. For many years, advocates of empowerment and engagement have argued that decision making should be as local as possible. Advocates argue that localising economic and democratic relationships to the local level will make it easier to define and solve economic, social and environmental problems.
But with the new Bill comes the abolition of a large number of regional bodies and strategies in England, many of which (such as spatial strategies and housing strategies) have played a role in ensuring that community decision makers do consider the impact of an ageing society. The debate explored the potential for delivering lifetime neigbourhoods under localism, how the housing needs of an older population can be met under a more devolved decision making process and how policy makers should deliver localism in a way which benefits all generations and delivers sustainable and engaged communities.
One concern voiced at the debate was that at a local level there is a risk of both nimbyism, resulting in unpopular but important policies and services’ being lost as the loudest voice gets its own way, to the possible detriment of more needy groups, and a loss of governance over National quality standards.
For example it can be argued that this is already happening with Academy schools, which are privately-owned state schools which are run independently of the local education authority. Their income is generated by sponsors who have control over how the school is run. While the main aim of academies is to raise education standards, academies often replace poor-performing schools, they pose threats to other state schools in that they are generally set up in new, innovative and well-equipped buildings, which means that there is often a high percentage of children who look to attend them. This in turn means that rival state schools will suffer from fewer parents enrolling their children, which means that they will get less money from the government. People also worry that academies are leading to the “privatisation of education” which means that local towns will lose democratic control over the school and there will be no local input to prevent the brighter pupils getting creamed off and taking with them an unfair proportion of local resources and thus overall standards will fall further.
Is ‘localism’ code for a free-for-all that risks the same thing happening with social care and housing?