It was 15 November 2011 when the Localism Act received royal assent. The act – which former David Cameron claimed would help “cut the red tape” in regard to devolving powers to local authorities and individuals – has been the focus of much debate. So nearly six years on, what’s changed?
Back on 4 May, we saw a series of metro mayors elected across Britain – including in Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley, whose figureheads Andy Burnham, Steve Roterham and Ben Houchen will today meet chancellor Philip Hammond. But whilst the election offered a brighter future for local socialism, there is still a long way to go in implementing the policies that will guarantee it.
Just last year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) commissioned a report detailing the 12 most deprived towns across England – and the starkest fact that emerged was 10 of the 12 towns were in the north of England, highlighting the north-south divide which is still as unequal as ever.
As the inner city economy of Manchester thrives, the communities surrounding it are not doing so well. Rochdale, Bolton and Blackburn were all placed high on the list of deprived towns – with businesses which once were a staple of their communities relocating while local authorities have not been given the power to stimulate growth. Greater Manchester is a prime example of the over-centralised inequality prevalent in 21st century Britain.
“If we are to serve the whole nation effectively, we have to develop ways of governing which respect and allow for local and regional differences and enable different localities to do things differently, appropriate to their circumstances.”
These are the words of Clive Betts, the Labour MP for Sheffield South East, from where Labour formulated a 2013 report entitled Labour and Localism: Perspectives on a New English Deal, in which a handful of MPs and party officials wrote a blueprint for the kind of localism a Labour government could deliver. With devolution high on the political agenda, there is a growing desire for local communities to be able to control their own affairs.
Hilary Benn, the Leeds Central MP and former shadow communities secretary, is an avid believer in the importance of localism, most noticeably delivering a speech at the University of Leeds underlining the importance of co-operation through individual needs.
“We look at the big issues that we face, and we realise that we need to co-operate together globally to face them.” One issue driven home by Benn was the matter of climate change – most importantly, the need for each nation to have control in reducing their current carbon emission rate. How does this link to localism? It links through the power of local responsibility in a global setting.
This is where the need for localism on a global level is becoming ever-more vital – through the power of local autonomy, communities will no longer bear the brunt of a national political decision which was not fully taken in their interests – instead, a controlled, gradual devolution will open new doors for not only Britain, but local towns and cities across the world.
Who can administer this? A national government which has the best interests of the many, not just the few. The hard-Brexit approach seen by Theresa May has led to a lack of belief and trust in the leader – infamously revealed on June 8 when the Conservatives lost their majority.
This opens the door for the Labour Party, and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. The Labour leader, who made the NHS, education and the gradual re-nationalisation of public services the focus of his election campaign, has helped rebuild and reshape the British-left ahead of the tumultuous times that will come after Brexit.
The strong and optimistic manifesto put out by the Labour Party in the lead up to the election has reinvigorated the case for local democracy – and the power of the collective. A Labour Party which concentrates on the potential benefits of Brexit can create a whole new outlook for devolving power to local communities, with a Brexit Britain devolved into a federal structure, instead of the unequal and largely out-of-date unitary structure.
Devolving power to cities, towns and communities promotes a higher level of equality and fairness overall – giving the opportunity for councils to make decisions on behalf of themselves, instead of the decisions being filtered down from Whitehall.