Richardson outlines that ‘national policy is often largely irrelevant to those working, living and practising in neighbourhoods.’
The Institute for Government states that ‘the UK is one of the most centralised countries of its size in the developed world, and English local government has the most circumscribed powers of any equivalent tier internationally’.
The Institute for Government outlines how the rhetoric around decentralisation has been strong from governments and political parties in the UK for decades.
Political decentralisation aims to give citizens or their elected representatives more power in public decision making.
Localism is a means of decentralising power. The Carnegie UK Trust’s work on the Enabling State outlines that ‘the rise of localism can be seen as a reaction against the standardisation of the post-war UK state. Centralised systems of delivery are able to provide ‘one size fits all’ services; their focus is equity of process rather than equity of outcome’.
Localism is not well defined, and can refer to multiple aspects of localised decision making and engagement. Wallace refers to localism as ‘improving local democracy through increased participation and engagement of citizens, greater powers for the local state to respond to local needs, and the ‘double devolution’ to communities and citizens’.
A 2011 Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned research report on localism states that the UK government is ‘seeking decentralisation both to the lowest tiers of government and away from government to the individual. The localism agenda is also linked to proposals aiming to increase the rate of local economic growth, rebalancing the economy in sectoral and spatial terms and promoting wellbeing in England’.
The Localism Act was passed in 2011, but despite the strong rhetoric, has been criticised for having ‘has had little effect on the balance of power between local communities and Whitehall, or on the balance of power between central and local government’.
In Scotland, similar legislation has been introduced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, implementation of which began from mid 2016.