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Localism needs action, not rhetoric

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I attended the co-operative councils fringe event at the recent LGA conference.

Although ‘co-operative’ seems to hold a number of meanings, in essence the intention to work with residents and businesses to make the best of their place is a strong one.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn spoke at the event and undertook to ensure the message from these councils reaches the shadow frontbench. Most were encouraged.

The message from each shadow frontbench speaker was clear: “We value you and what you do, you are in power locally, when we gain power nationally we aspire to build on what you do.”

Yet the reality of taking control in Westminster makes the likelihood of any truly local approach holding sway in national government unlikely.

Co-operative approaches on the ground are undermined when the local agencies are driven in different directions by the differing demands of central government departments.

Shadow ministers who worked closely in opposition are spread separately around their Whitehall departments to pursue their individual agendas. Our current form of government is not rooted in co-operation.

So the LGA was right to finally state the obvious. Unless funding for local government has a strong local determination and unless central departments can comprehend the complexity of people’s lives rather than trying to segment everything into neat policy themes, the government can preach localism all it chooses but its approach will be at odds with its message.

What you do matters much more than what you say.

Neither this government nor the next one is about to change this fundamental dynamic. The learning for local government is that our actions are more important than our messages.

Whether we attach our colours to localism or co-operatives, we need to just get on and do it.

John Atkinson, independent adviser on leadership, strategy and creativity

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