As the primary advocate of 'New Localism', the think-thank has long stated that decision-making should be as close to the user as possible, that 'joining-up' happens more easily at such levels and that clear accountability, efficiency and engagement are much more likely when this is the case. Writing in an introduction to the publication New Localism in Action: Transport, NLGN director Dan Corry states:
Nevertheless, the NLGN report is clear that decentralising transport policy to local level is not straightforward and in another contribution to the collection, Professor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, observes some of the difficulties: 'Left to their own devices some local - and national - politicians take a short termist political gain game. We have all seen it. When the ruling party tries to act responsibly and bring in a new pedestrianised area of stretch of bus priority lane, all the others go running for the votes pandering to the motorist and the shopkeeper. All parties do it. They curse it when they are in power and they take full advantage when they are not. The longer terms interests of the community and the voter are sacrificed at the altar of a cheap shot. No wonder so few people turn out to vote at local elections.'
Professor Begg also calls for local authorities to show their willingness to join up: 'We need proof that more local authorities can get on with their neighbours and deliver common sense solutions that offer the greatest good for the greatest number - irrespective of what borough they happen to be in. We do not need to wait for structural change for councils to foster stronger links with each other and work for the greater good of transport users on all their regional journeys and not just the bit that runs through their own boundaries.'
In another essay, Transport 2000's executive director, Stephen Joseph acknowledges the need for greater decentralisation but says that this must happen within clear concerns about the broader canvas: 'There are some things that only Whitehall can do, and it should concentrate on setting 'clear national and regional frameworks', and avoid micromanaging. Localism has its limits; a free-for-all will produce precisely a race to the bottom and the weakest communities will fare worst'.
Mr Joseph further outlines the nature of what these 'frameworks' should do:
link transport planning with land use planning and economic development;
integrate transport into other policy areas to maximise access to key facilities'
allow for consistent pricing signals;
create clear responsibilities and budgets that enable delivery and give powers to make trade-offs; and
require public involvement, transparency and accountability, including strong official transport user bodies.
Elsewhere, Phil White of National Express Group details the operation of 'golden rules' in the localist relationship between its board and local management and argues that these can be applied elsewhere: 'Although these rules for successful localism are applied in the circumstances of a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, they can be flexed to suit the circumstances of many relationships; for example, between central and local government; public/private partnerships and the various relationships at local level - such as those between PTEs and local councils.'
The pamphlet is the first in a series based on papers given at NLGN's ongoing seminar programme: New Localism in Action. The series aims to pin down the main implications of New Localism across a range of key public services delivered locally and future publications will focus on education, anti-social behaviour and housing.
The New Local Government Network is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities. www.nlgn.org.uk
* The report is available on LGCnet.