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A little local difficulty

The challenges of making localism work

A little local difficulty

Background

2011 marks the beginning of a challenging period in local government as funding reductions begin to affect core services. Amid a fast-moving policy environment, further uncertainty is also emerging around localism and decentralisation: what do these terms actually mean for local authorities, and how can they be implemented in practice?

In Whitehall, ministers have made it clear that localism is central to our future, and are using legislation such as the Localism Bill and specific policy initiatives across health and education to begin the process.

This piece examines the challenges around implementing the new Government’s localism and decentralisation agenda, drawing on evidence provided by local authority chief executives across England.

Key findings

Drawing on evidence from a number of local authority chief executives in England, the report focuses on key challenges for councils going forward:

  • Significant change to local authority business models. Uncertainty around budgeting, future revenue and capabilities create a series of business change challenges for local authorities.
  • Within communities, there is significant variance in capability and engagement. There is poor strategic understanding of where community capability interfaces with areas facing cuts.
  • There is an urgent need to understand what is possible on a systemic, not just ad hoc or experimental, level. Councils need to build a matrix of organisations to do business with based on their track record, impartiality, corporate structures and their legitimacy.
  • There are no common standards of accountability and governance. There is patchy or limited best practice around the optimum accountability and governance mechanisms for community-led delivery models.

The findings from this report show that tensions between central government intent and local government readiness remain in place. Alongside this underlying tension, authorities face challenges around capability shortfall, significant variance in community participation, and uncertainty around governance and accountability. Left alone, these problems could restrict localism to a few narrow reforms: a far cry from the wholesale replacement of one system with another that champions of localism envisage.

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