Is there a limit to localism?

Yesterday I was giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee for their localism inquiry, alongside Mencap, Sitra and Runnymede Trust.

On the whole, our position on localism is quite positive. The Localism Bill will give more freedom to local authorities and at the same time give local communities more ways to be involved in local decision making, with new powers for neighbourhood planning, to call local referendums and the chance to bid to run local services. We can see there are opportunities and risks in this new approach. But one of the MPs accused us of wanting our cake and eating it – holding on to some national requirements at the same time as supporting localising power, in particular giving communities a chance to get more involved.

To me this doesn’t seem too much to ask. After all this should not be a choice between either a controlling centralised system or a localised free-for-all. A localist approach should increase opportunities for people in later life to have a greater say in their neighbourhood and shape the services they need. We can already see this happening in some places. There are good examples where local authorities are working with partners and individuals to better tailor services.

For instance, Age Concern Rotherham has supported the implementation of Rotherham Borough Councils ‘Home from Home’ Quality Scheme by running sessions in residential homes to support residents and their families to express their views about the care they are receiving.

But we are also looking for some balance. This good practice isn’t happening everywhere and there is no guarantee that a localist approach will mean everyone in a community gets to have their say. The Citizenship Survey 2009-10 showed that older people were less likely than younger groups to feel they could influence decisions locally and nationally. People need to see what changes when they get involved. For some older people who face multiple discrimination there will be additional barriers to participation which need to be systematically identified and addressed.

This is why we need to hold onto some national form of accountability. This doesn’t necessarily mean a burdensome performance management system, but checks and balances that mean wherever you live you know what you should expect from your council. For more information see our written response to the inquiry.

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