By Iain Hasdell, Head of Local & Regional Government
The Localism Bill has just received Royal Assent and has finally become the Localism Act.
Having played a small role in developing some of its early content and subsequently been an advisor to the Select Committee Inquiry into Localism during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, my perception is of a legislative journey and debate that has gone on for a very long time.
However it is now on the statute book and this is a good moment to pause and reflect on what this might mean.
For some champions of relatively pure localism, such as Professor George Jones, the Act will always be seen in part as centralist in its advocacy of ‘guided localism” and because of the number of reserved powers the Act gives to the UK Government.
But others will see it as a symbolic early step towards a decentralised future polity and as a real opportunity for local people and groups to shape and influence their communities to at least a modestly greater extent than before.
A healthy on-going dialogue on these ideas will continue to serve us all well as implementation of the Act unfolds, but some certainties are clear already.
It is clear for example that one of the outcomes of the Act will be that local government is regularly moved from an often pre-eminent role in governance and service delivery to an important one. This is a subtle shift but a fundamental one with many long term implications.
In addition, it will definitely be the case that core components of the Act will be heavily used in some parts of the country and remain obsolete in others. This will be particularly true of the provisions on the ‘Right to Challenge’ existing service delivery providers and the ‘Right to Buy’ community assets.
The Act will, unless it is legally unsound, ensure that more decisions about housing are taken sub-regionally and locally.
And the Act certainly will not fully address an agenda that many observers demanded it should, namely the reform of the Whitehall end of the localism kaleidoscope. Its scope does not sufficiently focus on how Whitehall will enthusiastically cede sovereignty to localities for those who see this as a key to the success of localism.
As we reflect on its arrival, it is also important that we see this Act in the context of the UK Government’s overall ambitions.
The Act is one, only one, of the tools that the Government has been desperate to have at its disposal to help move its version of the Big Society concept into more action on the ground. It aims to deliver more than 30 specific commitments of the UK Government’s Coalition Agreement.
The wait for the Act offers a partial explanation for the slow progress on implementation that, with some excellent exceptions, we are all observing, especially in the area of local public service reform.
We will each have our own views on the versions of localism and Big Society that are being promoted by the UK Government.
But we must judge the future effectiveness of the Localism Act not on its content and our position about that content but on how successful it is as a vehicle for driving implementation of local change in communities.
Many of us will be watching and judging with interest.