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The new age of austerity risks creating a reclusive society characterised by public affluence and private squalor, localism think tank NLGN warns today.
In a provocation paper setting out scenarios for future relationships between councils and the public, the think tank warns that the era of austerity could create ‘me first’ attitudes that cause people to turn away from public services and instead demand tax cuts and access to private sector services. Cuts could also lead to a new generation of e-enabled ‘super NIMBYs’, using powers in the Localism Act to ensure that they get as big a slice as possible of a shrinking public sector pie.
NLGN’s paper – Anticipating the Future Citizen – argues that without strong local leadership, greater central government support for localism and significant investment in community solutions, local government risks ever greater community disconnection and anger. But while the think tank’s analysis suggests that a renaissance of community life is unlikely by 2015, it does see hope in what some describe as a ‘new mutualism’ – social enterprise schemes such as Southwark Circle and the Empty Shops Network that encourage mutual self-help.
Graeme Walker, the local government specialist at PA Consulting and lead author of the paper, said: “The scale of spending cuts and the coalition’s ambition for the Big Society means the time is now for councils to encourage greater community involvement in service delivery and re-cast the relationship between citizen and state. The ‘Future Citizen’ scenarios we have developed with NLGN are our contribution to this debate – how will you respond to the challenges and opportunities they pose?”
NLGN Director and report co-author Simon Parker added: “The first wave of responses to the cuts has focused on reducing the costs of supplying services. This paper reinforces the message that the next wave of change must be about the way citizens interact with government. The size of the public sector matters, but the really important question is what we want government to do, and what we as citizens are prepared to contribute to building a better society.”