Steve’s previous post on HRA reform got me thinking about the government’s claims to devolution and decentralisation.
It seems to me the government’s measures fall into three categories: new centralism, devolving bad news and genuine decentralisation.
Any issues that are high on the government’s agenda are being centralised. Gove’s school reforms take more power and influence away from elected local councils over education. Welfare equally could have been localised or at least adapted to different local circumstances. But being high on the Tory agenda they keep it to themselves. Equally, populist measures like bin collections and banning council magazines are subject to central edict.
Devolving bad news:
So local authorities lose ring fencing at a time of the worst ever local authority cuts – meaning they have the ‘power’ only to decide what to cut. Council tax benefit gets localised, at the same time the government topslices 10% of it, without reference to need. Plenty of examples of this.
The new powers that social housing landlords have over rents and tenancy lengths constitute a genuine loosening of controls from the centre. But, the most extensive of these powers will be exercised by housing associations which may be national in scope and not subject to democratic accountability – so decentralisation yes, but localism or greater democracy?. The HRA reform (I think) is probably the only straight forward and genuinely localist reform so far: it devolves real control (and control over money at that) to a local democratic body.
I am surprised they have gone ahead with the reform given how everything has been sacrificed to deficit reduction. I thought any system which delivered a surplus to the Treasury would be very likely to stay put.
Any other categories of localism I’ve missed, or things I should add?