Taylor Fordyce Articles

The Localism Bill – Can it really work?

March 2011

The coalition government has announced that it has a historic opportunity to make a radical shift of power from the centralised state to local communities, – Big Government to Big Society, but will it really work?  If the Bill is enacted it may, however well it succeeds in some areas, be perceived as having failed on account of one simple factor – human nature. The aim of this proposed legislation is to “de-centralise” the control hitherto exercised by government through its elaborate mechanisms for audit, inspection, setting targets and providing guidance to facilitate the micro-managed public. The last labour government have brought this centralised management to an unprecedented level. The coalition government now seek s to reverse it.

Six essential actions are proposed: empower communities to do things their way; increase local control of public finance; diversify the supply of public services; open up government to public scrutiny; strengthen accountability to local people. However well some of these aims may succeed there is one weakness in this strategy which may, however well the body of it may succeed in reality, create the perception that overall it has failed. The ambition to “empower communities to do things their way” is flawed.  In order to empower communities to do things in their way there will have to be a radical reformation of the planning system in order to give local people new rights to enable them to shape the development of their communities. The flaw in this which the government do recognise as a potential case against de-centralisation, is that by virtue of human nature there will be a strong voice of “nimbys” who will always do all they can to stop all new development whether essential or merely desirable and whether for the benefit of the local community or merely for the profit of some greedy developer. Just take a look at your own small community and ask yourself if you think that as a group an intelligent and viable scheme for development of their community is ever likely to come from a meeting of their minds on the subject? The most likely result is that there will be no ideas or proposals at all and a majority vote against anybody else’s proposals. Lets watch that space.