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A new report by localism think tank NLGN has set out a vision for more sustainable local public services beyond the current financial settlement and the aims of the government’s Localism Bill.
Next Localism: Five trends for the future of local government explores how a new relationship between State and Citizen could make a reality of the freedoms needed to fulfil local government’s ambition, shape the future of local democracy and ‘lock in’ localism into the wider public service reform agenda.
The report demands three key reforms from central government that would herald a new era of localism:
- Greater financial reform: to reduce local government’s dependency on Westminster by letting councils raise more than half of their own money from local sources, up from less than 40% at present.
- New management powers: to improve local services, with councils able to bid to manage elements of budgets currently controlled by Whitehall, such as health, police and jobcentres, so councils can help design more efficient and personalised local services.
- Greater Whitehall reform: with central government better joined-up on policy, localism integrated into the decision-making process, and ministers and their officials set more hurdles to stop the micro-management of localities.
Report author, NLGN’s new Director Simon Parker said:
“The Localism Bill sets out an important direction of travel, devolving some key powers to councils and their communities. But the framework in which our Town Halls operate is still severely limited, and the latest financial settlement ties one hand behind their back.”
“NLGN is today calling for greater financial freedom, more devolved power and a redefined relationship between central and local government to bring about a new era of truly sustainable localism.”
“At a time of challenging cuts, there is a real danger of localism becoming associated with low cost and low value public services. Councils themselves must rise to this challenge by meeting budget cuts with innovative and ambitious thinking”
NLGN has also identified five shifts for how councils can be more ambitious:
1. A shift from retrenching to redeveloping. Once the first wave of cuts is over, councils must decide whether they want to become less ambitious, or whether they will transform their services and develop new roles in their communities.
2. Local government needs to move from simply piloting new approaches to transforming services on an industrial scale. Over the coming years, local and central government will need to be much bolder, working together to rapidly bring approaches such as early intervention, prevention and community-based budgeting into the mainstream.
3. A shift from wholesale to retail provision as services are increasingly sold directly to individuals. This trend is most obvious in social care, where the government is preparing to shove councils down the route of personal budgets. But other services such as health and education are also being marketised.
4. A shift in the political role of councils from being primarily service providers to becoming democratic hubs. As the shared or commissioned services approach strips members of their role as elected service managers, they will need to embrace a role that combines traditional voter advocacy with community capacity building and social entrepreneurship.
5. Local government will have to move from place-shaping to community development. Instead of planning better places from the town hall, councils will need to help citizens and communities make better choices for themselves by providing them with information and advice, and by building up intangible assets like trust and social capital.