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Devolving Power to People & Places

Devolving Power to People & Places

About this Workstream

The UK is one of the most centralised countries of its size in the developed world, and English local government has the most circumscribed powers of any equivalent tier internationally. Despite the many merits of the Localism Act 2011, communities are still relatively powerless when it comes to shaping their local area and participating in their public services, and people no longer believe that voting will deliver the changes they require.

 

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The concentration of power and of public budgets has also produced centralised, standardised and ‘top-down’ public services that have been constructed on the premise of ‘economies of scale’. This approach places bureaucratic ‘efficiency’ and cost-cutting above quality, personalisation and social value. Too many centralised budgets responding to different metrics and different analyses of the problems that need addressing, result in policy conflict and chaotic interventions. As a result, people’s real individual and communal needs are never met.
The failures of universal services are exemplified by the protests against and the reality of the postcode lottery. In the attempt to ensure equality the same thing is given to everybody regardless of need, so people’s true needs are never met. Instead we need a new place based integrated system of public service delivery. Locality is not a coincidence for the real individual, but central to their identity and experience. Thus real people have to be treated as part of their homes, and part of the communities they live and work in: geography matters. The bad luck is not that of the individual born into the ‘deprived area’ but the disadvantaged community itself. Deprivation is a communal and systemic problem, and thus has to be solved holistically, that is to say solved communally. Only an approach that deals with problems and the many factors driving them, at the level and place that they exist has any hope of working.

We need a new constitutional settlement based on the principle of subsidiarity and place based service delivery, whereby communities and individuals can be the real agents for change in their local area and genuine participants and owners of their local assets, businesses and public services. Public services and neighbourhoods should be governed and shaped from the ‘bottom up’, harnessing community and locally-integrated budgets to deliver the best outcomes to people and their places. Services must be tailored to the specific needs of areas and individuals. Personalisation of public services and budgets should be harnessed to this end, and both people and local partners should be empowered to meet the needs of those with complex and deep-seated problems. Civil society and intermediary institutions, such as schools, faith groups, local clubs and businesses, are crucial means to achieving this outcome, and the role of governing bodies from mayoralties, cities and local authorities through to parish councils and neighbourhood forums are key agents to meeting this goal and closing Britain’s democratic deficit.

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