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Debating localism, and today’s other top local stories

December 17, 2010

Localism is dead – long live localism. Simon Parker has identified a major trend in the Localism Bill: empowering communities. He reckons that this approach is “heavily shaped by the former philosophy don Oliver Letwin” and “seems to emerge from a philosophical hybrid of Hayek (markets), Schumpeter (creative destruction) and Amartya Sen (capabilities)”. I’m not so sure. I think it’s fairly well-accepted that the idea of community empowerment is the brain-child of Cameron’s “philosopher king” Philip Blond. His ideas are most obvious in the community “right to buy” that the Bill provides. Intellectually, Blond is echoing Burke’s argument that citizens and government must value society’s “little platoons” (although I don’t think Blonde cites Burke in Red Tory). The philosophers Chesterton and Belloc, however, are mentioned in the book. All three thinkers are part of a pre-Thatcherite brand of conservatism that takes groups of people, not individuals, as the most important unit of analysis. Sen and Hayek, in particular, aren’t at home in that company at all.

This localism bill shows Eric Pickles is Hazel Blears in super-sized wolf’s clothing. Simon Jenkins has the best analysis of the Localism Bill I’ve read so far. It would be fair to say that he’s not impressed by the Big Society. He points out that “there is a gaping hole at the heart of this measure, and that hole is democracy. The present government, like its predecessor, lives in holy terror of the ballot box. It dreads the wide uncertain sea of the local franchise. Having won their own mandate, ministers clutch legitimacy to their bosom, and do not want to share it with anyone”. He’s absolutely right. The government is far too squeamish about devolving power to elected local representatives. What’s more, this squeamishness is self-defeating. Research we’re working on at the moment shows that councillors of all parties are signed up to the idea of a “Big Society” based on more active individuals. They’re also prepared to play a community leadership role to help create it.

Malvern Hills District Council – Financial Crisis. Looks like Andy’s prediction in September that District Councils would be hit hardest by the spending cuts have been borne out by events. The Tenbury Blog is reporting that Malvern Hills District Council will face a 26.85% reduction in funding over the next two years. That sounds like a lot to us. There’s still the glimmer of hope that, in the consultations that usually follow the settlement, the council will be able be to extract some flexibility from DCLG. Indeed, the blog reports that a meeting with Pickles is already on the cards.

Local council cuts announced: get the data. A natty little graphic from The Guardian data blog. It maps reductions in local authority budgets for 2011-12 in alarming shades of red and orange.

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