Localism is not achieved by simply ‘handing down the axe’ and leaving councils to make cuts dictated by central government policy. Real localism will only be achieved by reforming local taxation so that council tax is replaced by a fairer mix of income and properties taxes.
Currently, local councils get 80% of their funds in the forms of grants, making them over-dependent on central government. In other countries, the percentage of funds raised locally is 50% or higher - that is where we should be moving to if we really want local devolution in this country, not lipstick localism.
While the idea of ‘people power’ is appealing, and neighbourhood powers – especially planning – are a positive step, the unfortunate reality of this Bill is that many local councils may end up being only too happy to offer voters the chance to fund and run services that they can no longer afford to support.
The real risk is that already deprived areas will slip further behind as people with limited resources struggle to meet the complex needs of their neighbourhoods. We have argued that social justice must sit at the heart of the drive for localism.
To achieve this, central government should set a broad framework of national entitlements and then allow local decision-makers to design and deliver services which are more tailored to their own local needs.
Ed Cox, director of ippr north