Localism, or devolved power, in Principle would be a fine thing, if it was genuine. The problem is that bureaucracy and private monopolies could seize the right to property as opposed to public right.
The Localism Act 2011 for example has been used, quite justly in an attempt to defend local property as in Ventnor. The town clerk and Mayor and Council quite rightly sort to maintain the coastal centre by challenging the last Isle of Wight Conservative administration in using the Localism Act in the right to bid.
Unfortunately the Conservative opposition has now decided to manipulate Localism for its own ends. They do this by invoking the concept of Cameron’s “Big Society” to manoeuvre specific power away from central government to promote volunteerism and privatisation of services. In other words unpaid labour and anti-social measures designed to pass property, land and services into the hands of private capitalism.
Yet how can services still be maintained without it? Is this a principled or pragmatic action? So far it would seem that the Ventnor Council has been principled.
Originally the Localism act was put into place to support EU regional policy into practice. It is an Act to make provision about the functions and procedures of local and certain other authorities; to make provision about the functions of the Commission for Local Administration in England.
The Bill was introduced by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles and passed as an Act of Parliament.
In presenting the case for a shift in power – from central Whitehall, to local public servants, and from bureaucrats to communities, they express fine sentiments and aspirations. The only problem is the genuine can become false if it is not scrutinised with proper checks and guarantees put in place to ensure there is little or no room for corruption.
At the same time the danger of the opposite tendency of more centralisation can be seen with the extent privatisation has always shown a tendency to end up in the hands of private monopolies when entering into certain public private partnerships.
The easy way out has been to sell off public assets to the private sector and larger enterprises, such as the Hambrough group over the Winter Gardens, have picked them up. On a larger scale this can be seen with PFI and Island Roads as well as parts of the education and Health services. Some of it is off loading a problem, some of it is ideologically driven but the “practical” way of looking at it is “what” works. The only problem with the pragmatic approach is by asking the question, “works for whom?”
The duplicity in the argument has been because of business cherry picking the profitable parts and leaving the rest for the public to pick up. Local government plays a crucial role. It is directly responsible for important public services, from street lighting, to social care, to libraries and leisure centres. What other services then will pass over and at what point?
The Isle of Wight council’s advert in the County Press appeared somewhat cavalier and irresponsible. It asked;
“Are you interested in running a Council service?”
– Openly touting for expressions of interest in taking over running a service can only be regarded as a thoroughly unprincipled and pragmatic approach. It is throwing caution to the wind and could be construed as selling one’s corporate soul to the devil. Surely this is inviting individuals and businesses to takeover assets and services without due regard and is tempting multi-national providence.
The Government has a centralised capacity to maintain control and caps Council Taxes and limits central funding. The centralisation and decentralisation is carefully controlled so Localism has limits and boundaries.
The problem for local authorities is where, when and how Localism is used.