Saturday, 3 May 2014

Localism: The uses and abuses of power: "No politician willingly surrenders control downwards."

Strong words from Simon Jenkins, chair of the National Trust, writing in yesterday's Guardian:

"Labour's hatred for localism, and especially elected localism, is as visceral as that of the Tories.
This is not a party matter; it is professional tribalism. No politician willingly surrenders control downwards." 

Schools are held hostage by politicians' control-freakery | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian

The issue of 'local vs central' has been touched on before:
Futures Forum: Jeremy Rifkin and the Collaborative Commons
Futures Forum: Relocalisation


If 'localism' is to mean anything, it surely needs to allow 'local people' - and not simply their County or District Councillors - to affect change.

Radical localism requires a new relationship between local authorities and communities as well as local and central government. 
One question to ask is whether devolution is too often stopping at the top two tiers of local government. Organisations – in this case councils - are sometimes guilty of spending a little too much time arguing for greater powers and responsibilities to be devolved to them, without taking the next step of thinking what should be devolved beneath them.

Welcome - Localis - Local government and localist think-tank

However, if Simon Jenkins is right - that politicians in general are loathe to surrender power - the question arises as to how much politicians in local government follow the same instincts.

Here is an example:

Wilmslow Town Council has submitted its comments for the Planning Inspector who will consider the Cheshire East Local Plan saying that, despite all the consultation responses, the plan does not reflect many of the local priorities.

The letter to the Inspector says:

"Despite CEC going through three major consultations which engaged Wilmslow residents in numbers not seen previously, the submitted plan contains very little of the local priorities.

"Wilmslow is surrounded by greenbelt and the creative use of brownfield, windfall and previously developed greenbelt land is critical to retaining the character of Wilmslow, yet the local plan gives relatively little attention to the use of this land and appears to proactively direct developers to greenbelt and greenspace. If there is a requirement on Cheshire East Council to ensure effective local consultation, then the Local Plan fails to meet the test of localism despite the number of consultations entered into.

"The Town Council, aware of local feelings towards greenbelt, has tried within the process to apply a common sense approach. We accept the need for some development and that the safeguarded land at Adlington Road should be developed, albeit later in the term of the Local Plan when critical infrastructure issues could be effectively overcome.

"Local Plan fails to meet the test of localism" - wilmslow.co.uk

In East Devon, there have been more than three consultations on its local plan:

Since 2006 the council has undertaken almost continuous consultation with the communities of East Devon, along with other stakeholders including developers, landowners and infrastructure providers to input into the Local Plan’s development.

East Devon Local Plan - further consultationEast Devon District Council - Planning Policy (inc LDF & Local Plan)
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon local plan ... part one

But the local plan has been rejected by the Inspector - provoking considerable frustration:
Has the Local Plan Inspector lost his patience with EDDC? | East Devon Alliance

"They have had five years to produce their plan, and now they are back to square one."
“Given the seriousness of the situation, the starkly complacent comment by council leader Paul Diviani, that he is ‘very relaxed’ about starting work again on the Local Plan, is incomprehensible.”

Campaigners: ‘We need root and branch reform of EDDC’ - News - Sidmouth Herald

However, the District Council has promised yet more 'consultation':

"After spending so long refining our plans and consulting on them, at some point you have to jump in and say, ‘OK – let’s see how close we are to what the Government wants to see’. In the circumstances I am relaxed about the extra work we have to do. We will now put together an action plan showing what we will be doing and when."

Local Plan Verdict: More work needed - News - Sidmouth Herald


The subject of 'localism' also touches on the subjects of lobbying, gravy trains and subsidies:
Futures Forum: Crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon........ The costs of "substantial growth and expanding business"
Futures Forum: Greenfield vs Brownfield: part two
Futures Forum: 'Planning gain' - the replacement for S106 cash from developers - the Community Infrastructure Levy - but is it still 'bribery' by a different name?

Because small businesses - which do not enjoy the advantages of lobbying, gravy trains and subsidies - are the backbone of the local economy:
Futures Forum: Michael Shuman and economic localisation: "Those counties with the highest density of local and small business were those that actually had the highest level of per capita income growth and were doing the best job of reducing poverty."

Because Walmart and other megachains employ primarily low-wage workers, and have huge multi-national presences, little of the money spent in your local superstore will remain in the local community. A study of the economic impact of local businesses versus large chain stores in New Orleans found that just 16 percent of money spent at the large chain remained in the local community, compared to 32 percent for independent businesses. Educate your consumers about how buying local can help your regional economy, and you may be able to sway them from switching allegiances.

Facts and Fiction About the “Walmart Effect” | Intuit Small Business Blog.

Again, if Simon Jenkins is right - that politicians in general prefer to hobnob with the powerful and are loathe to surrender power - another question arises as to how politicians in local government 'work with certain business interests'...

Interestingly, in East Devon, its leading District Council officers and councillors have chosen to address the district's business group about the local plan:
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Support Group... 'updated' on the draft Local Plan

This grouping was formed following the demise of the East Devon Business Forum
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Group... or Forum
Futures Forum: East Devon Business Group: disbanded
Futures Forum: Lobbying: East Devon Business Forum

"It is clear from pronouncements by senior officers that the District Council has never felt comfortable dealing with community representatives and it is this approach which throws doubt on the soundness of the District Council’s consultation process, especially with regard to strategic economic policy."


Here is a report given by Karime Hassan, the District Council's then-Corporate Director, when addressing the East Devon Business Forum in February 2011:

“Karime Hassan reported that the biggest challenge facing the Business Forum was ensuring that there was a clear voice from business in East Devon. Before the formation of the [East Devon] Business Forum, engaging with business in East Devon had not always been easy, whereas in Exeter City there was a single voice for business. It had always easier to engage with resident groups and those who opposed development rather than those who were supportive. He confirmed that the regulatory regime that local authorities imposed could be felt to stifle business, particularly within the planning process. The way the local authority engaged with business was a matter of fundamental importance and had improved greatly due to the relationship EDDC had established with the Business Forum.

The greater weight that had been given to the views of business since the establishment of the Business Forum was recognised, particularly over issues such as the lack of employment land supply... 

“Karime Hassan reported that the establishment of East Devon Business Forum had made his job as Corporate Director of EDDC easier as it was the voice of business in East Devon.”


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