Blog: INLOGOV rues the centralist tendencies of the Localism Bill

Posted on Tuesday 8th February 2011

Written by: Professor John Raine (Professor of Management in Criminal Justice)

'The world will be your oyster', suggested the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Right Honourable Eric Pickles MP, at the Local Government Association Conference back in July 2010, when outlining new freedoms that his forthcoming Localism Bill would provide for councils.

But that was before the Bill was published and presented to Parliament. Now we know better what it contains – some new freedoms, for sure, but a raft of new requirements and controlling powers for the Secretary of State as well! Indeed, such is the extent of centralising measures now being proposed that Professors George Jones and John Stewart suggest that the legislation could as well have been called the Centralism Bill. 

INLOGOV’s new publication on the Bill ('The World will be your Oyster': Perspectives from the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) on The Localism Bill (PDF 1.2MB, open new window)), in thirteen short chapters, provides a comprehensive analysis of the main provisions in the Bill – explaining what is intended and what the provisions are likely to mean.

Following an introduction and overview (by John Raine), Tony Bovaird examines the proposals for new rights to communities to challenge, to take over services and to buy assets. Then Robert Dalziel ponders the impact on community empowerment, followed by chapters on the implications for town and parish councils (by Ian Briggs), and on the development of neighbourhood government more generally (by Helen Sullivan). Next, under the heading of decentralisation and democracy, Steve Rogers and Catherine Staite explore the proposed new general power of competence for local authorities; before John Cade considers the proposals for new governance of councils; Chris Game examines the plans for directly elected mayors and Philip Whiteman explores the new approach to elected member conduct following the proposed abolition of the Standards Board. Key parts of the Bill concern reforms to the planning system and to social housing, so in the final section, first Andrew Coulson, then Gill Bentley, examine the proposed changes to development planning and to local economic development, before David Mullins outlines and analyses the various housing reforms. The publication rounds off with a formidable critique by John Stewart and George Jones of the continuing centralist thinking that, they argue, pervades the Bill.

"…It is ironic that a Localism Bill contains so many means by which central government can prescribe how local authority powers are to be used, their procedures developed and criteria to be applied by them.  It is as if central government knows no other way to act than through command and control enforcing detailed prescription. Yet localism will develop only if centralism in the culture and processes of central government is effectively challenged. The Bill shows that, far from being so challenged, these attitudes and practices have deeply influenced the so-called Localism Bill…".

Comment and read more of INLOGOVs blog posts at inlogov.blogspot.com