By Kirby Swales
‘Game on’ is how one of the speakers described his feelings on localism at the CLES 2012 summit conference this week. The event was wide-ranging with interesting speakers giving their perspectives on a number of agendas, including: neighbourhood planning, community rights, public service reform, local government finance, City Deals and a national spatial framework.
The key question for the conference was whether the localism agenda will genuinely change prospects for local areas. The jury was very much out on that question, with many hinting that it is possible to go much further, and others arguing that it’s not a coherent policy framework.
Nevertheless, there was certainly a feeling that it is time to start implementing new responses. The new world is about focusing on how adaptation should be best managed – not about demonstrating need, and about having clearer roles for different contributors .The City Deals published yesterday are an important part of the latter picture, giving local authorities more strategic leadership. The challenge for the voluntary sector is to adapt to new and better forms of delivery, and there is a greater role for local civil society through initiatives such as neighbourhood planning and Community First.
One way of determining whether it is a coherent framework and whether it is joined up is to track how it impacts on individual places, and this highlights a need for more evidence on spatial impacts, such as the recent Map for England.
A new website developed by Renaisi and OCSI contributes to this, enabling people to find out what area initiatives are going on locally. In a similar vein, there is also a government website that identifies examples of community action.
I came away wondering whether the sense of urgency was strong enough given the profound changes currently happening. ‘Game on’ is the right phrase because right now many communities are at risk from reversal after a period of growth, with all the costly symptoms that may follow. The theory and legislative framework of localism still feels a long way from creating real change in real places.
The conference finished with some more strategic issues of concern. One speaker argued that this is the first time since Beveridge that we lack a clear drive to invest in disadvantaged areas. This was a sobering reminder of what may be at stake if all the redistributive mechanisms are stripped away in the interests of localism. – ‘Be careful what you wish for’ as one delegate put it.