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‘Allow councils to experiment’

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Matthew Taylor says better local decision-making is the antidote to the inappropriate concentration of power in Westminster.

“To quote, or misquote, Daniel Bell on the role of the nation-state, I think we’re too big for the small things in life and too small for the big things in life,” he says.

“There are simply far too many people centrally with very little to do other than make decisions. And these decisions have all sorts of ramifications.

“Local government has to do two things. It has to win the battle of constantly explaining to Whitehall that it should be allowed to experiment, but it also must demonstrate to local people and local institutions that they need collective decision-making.”

The former No 10 policy unit head says good local political leadership is key to “overcoming the public’s general scepticism about politics”.

“If you look at local referenda, such as Manchester’s congestion charge referendum, it shows that if you try to engage people without having the kind of relationship where they’re listening, they’ll just stick two fingers up.”

He also warns that the Total Place initiative could breach the principle of universal access to services underpinning the NHS.

Pooling health and social care budgets could allow service users with long-term health conditions to top up payments for healthcare services.

“If the government is serious about applying personal budgets to long-term health conditions, it will have to confront difficult issues of how to balance autonomy and choice with universality,” he says.

On Barnet LBC, he is a believer in the local authority’s ‘easyBorough’ approach to service delivery. “I think its stance around personalisation and the commissioning of local services is more radical than most other local authorities,” he says.

“It’s a strange mixture of cutting-edge thinking about new services plus a bit of Conservative radicalism, which is a heady brew.”

Matthew Taylor is director, RSA

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