Coffee House

The clever councils keeping localism in vogue

4 October 2013

One of the problems with localism is that it sounds very grand and clever in opposition, and then turns out to be a nightmare to implement in reality. A minister recently remarked to me rather grumpily recently that ‘all the good people left local government because Labour starved them of responsibility’, and a lack of skills at the top does make it a little more risky to hand powers from Westminster to councils. But there are local authorities who are savvy and brimming with ideas who do want – and deserve – more control over policymaking, such as Manchester. Manchester has caught the eye of Chancellor George Osborne for being an experimental authority, and I look at its worker bee ethic in my Telegraph column today.

But councils like Manchester aren’t just keen to run pilots for the government because they are somehow affable: they know that the more competent and clever they show themselves to be, the more power they are likely to get. Manchester is part of the Core Cities group of councils – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield being the others – which is currently campaigning for greater financial freedom along with Boris Johnson. They want devolution of property tax revenues streams and the power for councils to reform those taxes too.


There is also pressure within the Conservative party from campaign group Renewal to give cities more power. Renewal is interested in devolution to cities from an electoral point of view: they think this will broaden the appeal of the Conservatives by supporting job creation in urban areas where most voters don’t consider voting Tory to be an option.

Labour is also, I understand, mulling its own new version of localism. Party strategists think that this government’s planning policies have been sufficiently botched for a Labour 2015 manifesto to offer local people a ‘real say’ over planning, for example. They too are trying to get a piece of the Manchester magic, consulting council leader Sir Richard Leese as one of the three co-chairs of the party’s local government innovation task force. I also hear that the party is considering coming up with a new name for localism that appeals to voters.

But whatever the name is, localism is clearly still in vogue, and that is partly down to this ambitious generation of councils who, like Manchester, are prepared to make the case for Westminster politicians trusting them more and more.

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  • Tom Tom

    Leeds is a Soviet and hardly a “local” council. It has a population of 800,000 with no intermediate levels and the plans are for Leeds City Region to take in Bradford and Harrogate into a Euro-Zone with a population of 3,000,000.

    This is simply Super-Gau as Hitler created in Germany. There is no “local” – it is simply an administrative Zone with Subject People. Manchester is no better –

    with 3.2 million Subjects.

    This is pathetic how politicians try to pretend they are “local”. Democracy and accountability are DEAD

  • David J Noble

    Manchester ? really … heavily subsidised . I think Conservative run Trafford is an example of what empowered localism can do . Your thoughts ? @DavidJNoble Twtr

  • MichtyMe

    Elsewhere in the world, most decisions are usually taken and much finance raised, at a local level, even in smallish states like Switzerland and the Nordics, here we have local administration implementing what is mandated by the centre and not local government.

  • Alexsandr

    Localism is all very well. But a lot of stuff isn’t that local. Counties are vast and while they may claim to be local, they may be imposing something on an area where it isn’t wanted.
    Districts are not much better. Where I live there is one dominant town and 3 or 4 satellite towns and a load of villages. But the major town has most of the councillors, so tend to impose their will over a huge area. Where is the localism there?

  • dalai guevara

    Localism isn’t tokenism. You chose to look at Manchester, have you studied their press landscape, most notably the local press? It’s un-be-lievably poor, a shocking state of affairs, frankly.

  • Mr Creosote

    Localism = Nimbyism. Case closed.

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