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Lord Kerslake: Devolution alone 'will not' reconnect communities

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A growing gap between the governing and governed is creating instability in the UK which must be addressed at a local level, cross-bench peer Lord Kerslake has warned.

A long-term and outspoken advocate for localism, Lord Kerslake called for a “radical and fundamental” shift in power away from Westminster in an interview with LGC.

“Grenfell brought the stark reality of disempowered communities to our attention,” said Lord Kerslake. “This issue [of alienation] applies across almost every community - we can see this applies to a large part of the population.”

Speaking ahead of a new report by the Commission on the Future of Localism, published today, the former head of the civil service chief said the devolution and localism agendas were both needed in tandem to “reinvigorate” local democracy.

“We need a combination of the two,” Lord Kerslake said. “Devolution is important, but we also need a separate agenda over the importance of community power.”

The report, titled ‘People Power’, references a YouGov poll of 1,628 adults, 80% of whom felt they had “not much or no control” over decisions that affected them. In a separate question, 70% of respondents said they felt Brexit would not improve their response.

Lord Kerslake has previously warned of a far-right resurgence should the electorate be ignored for too long.

“This is a centralised country and we need to devolve powers,” said Lord Kerslake. “But that, in and of itself, will not lead to the reconnection of communities.”

Among a long list of recommendations, the commission’s report calls for a reconnection with local representatives by removing hierarchies in local government and allowing lower level councils greater control over their budgets.

Last November, communities secretary Sajid Javid said he will look to strengthen the requirement for principal authorities to pass down appropriate funding for devolved responsibilities to town and parish councils.

“We have to think about how we can pass power down from the top by asking how to build it from the bottom up,” Lord Kerslake said. “It’s about institutions and their relationships with local government - building organisations that can advance community views and voices.”

The commission found that community-led initiatives and local decisions were being “trumped from above”, leading to a feeling of alienation among many voters.

“This commission has revealed a profound rift between people and political power in Britain today,” Lord Kerslake said. “Attempts by successive governments to decentralise have not addressed this gulf between the governed and those that govern.”

Lord Kerslake also said the commission’s findings were an “honest assessment” of progress made since the 2011 Localism Act, adding that he wanted to restart the political agenda.

“The intent was there in 2011, but it [the Localism Act] came alongside some pretty grueling budget redactions,” he said, referencing an almost 50% decrease in council spending power since the bill passed. “If we really want to deliver a fundamental shift away from Westminster then we’re going to have to do things differently - that means working from the bottom up.”

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