The government claims that the Localism Act will “shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils”.
But how far does it devolve to the local level? How will it affect communities and the voluntary groups that serve them? What impact will it have on public services and the workers who deliver them? What will it mean for social housing tenants? And how will its impacts be shared across communities?
In a new publication jointly produced by the TUC and National Coalition for Independent Action, Localism: Threat or Opportunity? a range of diverse voices from the trade union and voluntary sector including TUC, NAVCA, Age UK, Runnymede Trust, Women’s Resource Centre, Shelter, Adur Voluntary Action, Northampton Institute of Urban Affairs and NCIA assess the likely impact of these new powers.
Receiving royal assent in November last year, many of its powers have come on line in the last month or so. This sprawling piece of legislation covers a range of issues related to local public services. It includes new powers that will change the way local authorities commission services, provide social housing, conduct neighbourhood planning and engage with communities.
While there is a diverse range of perspective across the different groups included in our publication, a unifying theme that comes through is a shared concern about the government’s ‘big society’ and ‘open public services’ agenda and how the creation of public service markets and an individualist and consumer-led approach to public service reform might lead to growing inequality within and between communities, markets that exclude community participation, competition at the expense of collaboration and localism that devolves responsibility and blame but not resources or power.
New powers within the Localism Act, such as Community Right to Challenge, will be under particularly scrutiny. The Right to Challenge which enables local non-profit groups to bid for public services is seen as a mechanism for opening up competition for services that will largely benefit private sector outsourcing companies.
Other concerns raised include the lack of capacity within local community and voluntary organisations to make effective use of powers to buy community assets or produce neighbourhood plans. To many, this is seen as a way of empowering those in the community with the loudest voices, the most resources and the sharpest elbows to influence local decision making.
As well as looking at the impacts of the Localism Act, Localism: Threat or Opportunity? also offers pointers to local trade union and community activists on how to respond to its threats but also its opportunities. Advice ranges from how to apply public sector equality duties to securing best use of public procurement to support wider community benefits.
We hope that this is a valuable addition to public debate on localism but also a useful campaign tool for local activists.