Tuesday, 6 May 2014

"An appetite for stronger local democratic institutions"

A report out today looks at our impressions of local government - which is quite a mixed bag:

Local identity and local governance

Local identity and local governance
PEOPLE are more trusting of local than national government, but does this always translate into wanting local policy decisions? Brian Wilson finds out.
In 2012, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) conducted a Future of England Survey. They have just published a re-analysis of the data, focusing on questions of local identity and local government.
Identity has rarely been higher up the political agenda, albeit much of that debate concerns this autumn's referendum on Scottish independence, devolution in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the UK's place within the European Union. The granting of minority status to Cornwall's people is an interesting addition to that brew.
Another backdrop is concern about the gap in economic performance which has opened up between London and the rest of the country: a gap many want addressed through decentralisation, amongst other things. This may include city-regions, a topic which excites discussion about the contribution of rural areas close to cities and about the implications for remoter rural areas which could be overlooked.
The latest work from IPPR looks mainly at the local government level. Sadly, their survey did not enquire about the very local level – including parish and town councils. This, perhaps, betrays a rather urban view of things. A plea to IPPR: if you re-run the survey, please cover the most local tier, not least given its topicality with localism.
People were asked by the survey how strongly they felt an attachment to different geographic identities. Eighty per cent stated a 'strong attachment' to their local area: a figure which compares favourably with a strong attachment to either England (75%) or the UK (66%).
There are hints that local attachment may be higher still in rural areas. Older age groups – disproportionately represented in rural areas – show a particular attachment to locality. So, too, do residents in certain more rural regions, like the South West and East of England, as well as those living in more northerly regions.
A question on people's ability to influence policy decisions is also of interest. At first glance the results are disappointing – if predictable – with 66% agreeing they had no say in decisions taken at the local level. Disengagement from local political processes should not be underplayed. However, the comparable figure for national decisions is worse (75%).
The IPPR report also draws upon findings from the National Citizenship Survey, which asked about trust in various public institutions. This consistently gave the highest score to the police, with over 80% of respondents having a lot or a fair amount of trust in them.
Trust in local councils rose over the decade this survey was run and stood at around 64%, which was almost double the figure for trust in Parliament.
IPPR conclude that this swathe of results runs counter to any assumption local councils and agencies cannot be trusted with many of the powers held centrally. One telling finding is that 39% want local councils to have more powers and only 14% want them to have fewer powers.
An argument frequently made against decentralisation is that this will result in a so-called postcode lottery, with service standards in some areas falling unacceptably behind others. The Future of England Survey therefore asked whether services should be the same everywhere or should be matters for local decision.
Findings show that people hold varying views about different service areas. They would be concerned about significant variation in primary and secondary education, social services and childcare. However, people are much more accepting of variation in refuse collection and recycling, planning approvals and housing policy.
Rural Services Network members would doubtless want to add that funding for local authorities and other service providers should, at least, offer a fair starting point from which decisions on priorities can be taken.
As IPPR note, the findings of their and other surveys indicate an appetite for stronger local democratic institutions and for more local determination of policies. As other parts of the UK experience increasing devolution, it may be the answer for England is decentralisation to local levels.
It is widely recognised that policies determined in the centre often fail to work effectively at the local rural level. If more decentralisation is the answer that, though, opens up further questions about the way it could be structured and funded to give all areas – rural and urban – a fair opportunity.
This article was written by Brian Wilson whose consultancy, Brian Wilson Associates, can be contacted at brian@brianwilsonassociates.co.uk. Brian also acts as the RSN Research Director.
Local identity and local governance

This chimes with another report out today on relocalisation:

Devolution of powers and proximity to London are the two main success factors for UK cities, according to new research.
A report by Michael Parkinson, an expert on urban economics at Liverpool university, has found that cities outside the south are falling further behind London and its satellite towns, and gains made since 2000 were in danger of being lost.
A number of reports by authors from Lord Heseltine to the Smith Institute, a Labour-linked think-tank, have said handing money and power to local control would boost growth.

UK cities need devolution of powers and linksw to London to succeed - FT.com
World’s City Leaders debate economic fight-back at Liverpool summit | Bdaily Business News

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