Control Shift’, our decentralisation green paper, outlines a series of policies that will see powers transferred from the central state to local people and local institutions:
- Abolishing all regional planning and housing powers exercised by regional government, returning powers and discretion back to local communities
- Creating bottom-up incentives for house building, by allowing councils to benefit more from the increase in council tax revenues from new homes, rather than being equalised away by Whitehall
- Allowing councils to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to take over the economic development functions and funding of the Regional Development Agencies
- Giving local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing them to help local shops and services, such as rural pubs or post offices
- Provide citizens in all large cities with the opportunity to choose whether to have an elected mayor, through mayoral referendums
- Greater use of direct democracy, including allowing residents to veto high council tax rises, and instigating local referendums on local issues
- Requiring councils to publish detailed information online on expenditure by local councils – including the pay and perks of senior staff, and issuing new guidance to stop ‘rewards for failure’ to sacked town hall staff.
Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said, “It’s not just about empowering local government; we want to empower the people it serves so that they can have more say in how much of their money they want their council to spend on their behalf.”
In the Guardian David Cameron writes:
Many worry that decentralisation is a step backwards. But localism isn’t some romantic attachment to the past. It is absolutely essential to our economic, social and political future. If our local economies are vibrant and strong we are far less vulnerable to global shocks or the failures of a few dominant industries. If people know that their actions can make a real difference to their local communities, they’re far more motivated to get involved – and civic pride is revived. If local government is both more powerful and more accountable, we can start to restore the trust that’s been lost in our political system. It’s for these practical reasons that I am a confirmed localist, committed to turning Britain’s pyramid of power on its head.
To my mind the green paper appears to be suggesting very modest shifts of power towards anything that resembles local. A presumption that local councillors should have money to spend in their patch is about as close to home as it seems to get. It seems to embody the same struggle that the mainstream media is having with understanding what is local. Local radio is rarely what I would consider local – likewise local government. The question remains how can government (rather the people who spend public money) really get involved in useful conversations at a local level – ones which will improve decision making.