|'...the shadows they make real...'|
Crumbs from a year's conversation with Jan D:
...There is a tendency to respond to problems by adopting legal or bureaucratic means (sometimes these are necessary) rather than solving the underlying real causes which in most cases are cultural and behavioural. These are more difficult to deal with and do not easily fit into a climate of Quick Fix and Sound Bites peppered with blame games and finger pointing (very different to true accountability). I can't remember last time I heard the phrase ‘Big Society’. It has disappeared from the political narrative I fail to see how (or understand ) the reduction of the public sector or the rolling back of the state will promote the Big Society. I think the government don't understand it either or can find any credible narrative for it, hence it has been allowed to fade away. It is more likely that the vacuum will be filled by economic interests and/or ‘intelligent’ criminals....
...I have mentioned before the need to recalibrate the relationship between LAs and government and for LAs to have their own 'narrative' for this. Whilst this remain important, I am coming more and more to the conclusion that it is the relationship between LAs, their population and local community, which requires more attention and recalibration. The traditional models are becoming increasingly irrelevant; no longer fit for purpose. The old saying that “all politics are local” remains true, but a narrative (and practice) based on delegated democracy, selective engagement and top-down consultations is not going to promote Localism...more likely it will be used to drive the current policy objectives. Perhaps the time has come to phase out this narrative or reconstruct it within an overall narrative of 'mobilisation and support'; for LAs to make this focus a priority because if (when) successful this would impact significantly on the LA-government relationship, simply because the political foundations of LAs would strengthen. No government could ignore that for long. This will take courage and persistence. The starting point is to ditch the parent-child relationship of local to centre; 'cleanse' local government of its Stockholm syndrome with Whitehall...a tall order; to get hundreds of LAs to 'sign up' is near impossible, but what is the alternative? What I find frustrating is that no such narrative, backed up by analysis, leading to a Localism Agenda has even started to emerge. This may be unfair but it seems that the mind-set is stuck in the past and past methods are being rolled out to deal with the new agenda when in reality something very different is called for...
...So you and I are in tune on the matter of narrative – the need for one that can get some grip on the reality of our current circumstances. To borrow from Lord Grey “plots are being lost all over Europe” - probably beyond – and we may not see them recovered in our lifetime. The many headed public is gathering snake-oil narratives with enthusiasm inventing the facts to make them work, as we can all do so well. ‘Intelligent criminals’, mountebanks, hucksters, profiteers (especially) and populists are enjoying the confusion, fashioning common-sense interpretations of what’s going on from rumour, speculations, distortion and amplification – the common vice of gossip. The shadows they make real include a profusion of lurking invasive ‘others’; proliferating foreigners, a continent of bureaucrats, a mass of work shy benefit thieves, neighbourhood fanatics plotting destruction, malign and invisible forces conspiring to contaminate and destroy what matters to decent folk. Best wishes, Simon...
...I am trying to weave this into the dialogue we have had so far. I am trying to create a framework which can accommodate these trends and hook the other points we have made on to it but I am struggling a bit. When are you back. I am happy to make the trip down to Birmingham. Could do with chewing these things over with you. Best Jan...
|Meeting Jan D|
From Jan D on 2 July:
Simon. At long last the Local Government Association (LGA) has come up with something worthwhile - see attachment, news of the speech at the LGA Conference by its Leader Sir Merrick Cockell.
Connected Localism - offer a way forward. Should not INLOGOV start to do some work on this?* Perhaps you and I should join the affray! It would really invigorate me. Best Jan
LGA calls for devolution to 'local treasuries'2 July, 2013 by Mark SmulianThe LGA has proposed a radical devolution of public services and financial power to localities in a bid to lead debate for the scheduled 2015 general election. It said that handing responsibility for all public services and resources to ‘local treasuries’ in elected authorities would foster faster economic growth while offering a solution to over-centralisation in England. Public services could be transformed through local leadership “rebuilding democratic participation, fixing public services and revitalising the economy,” LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said.
With ideas to appeal to national politicians in all main parties, the LGA’s Rewiring Public Services report said the present model of a highly centralised state “will not see us through for very much longer”. Devolution and local financial autonomy would reinvigorate democracy with local politicians taking responsibility for tax and service standards, so voters would no longer hold national ministers responsible. Local services decisions would be “together in one place, for each place,” with resources fixed by national government but shared out by English local government collectively, not ministers. This would help answer the ‘English Question’, where voters have been angered that devolution has lagged behind Scotland and Wales, the LGA argued. Voter engagement with local politics would increase because the public would see direct consequences from voting, taxation and service standards if an elected ‘local treasury’ were visibly responsible for these.
Sir Merrick (Conservative) said politicians in all three parties were sympathetic to these ideas.
“It certainly seems to chime with some of the things being said by people in different parties,” he said "Things cannot stay as they are now. We are looking for the three main parties to adopt these ideas in their manifestos and then one would expect any party to deliver on that.”
Sir Merrick said the coalition had supported pooling and devolution of local public service resources to a limited extent, “but logically if you believe in community budgets and city deals the consequence is that you need structural change and things cannot stay the same”.
The paper stressed the need for single places to control public services and resources but did not explicitly say what should happen in two-tier areas.
“A local treasury could be based on a city or large town but also on a county – not necessarily a county council – with all partners including districts coming together and looking to the long term rather than current structures,” he said.
“Seeing a further cut of 10% we will have to think hard about the viability of councils to operate in the way they have been”
The LGA has also sought to appeal to the political parties by offering a route to faster economic growth. Localities could alter business rates and local tourist or sales taxes – to support their economies and target investment “in projects that will unlock growth potential and improve productivity,” the report said
This would end the “top-down bidding culture and refocus decision-making decisively on local employer-led priorities; enabling the public sector to provide a better tailored service to local businesses”.
Sir Merrick said that despite the paper’s concerns about local political apathy, the LGA did not look at changes to the voting system.
“I don’t think first- past-the-post is the problem in causing the stagnation, it is that people want to feel that their vote matters because it will have consequences in local taxation and services,” he said.
Were this to happen, the role of councillors would change substantially as they would be responsible for all public services not just those of one council, Sir Merrick said.
The paper also suggests that a large though unspecific number of council leaders should sit in the House of Lords and raises the possibility of MPs being involved in local treasuries, possibly as formal consultees.
The LGA’s plan for devolution of public services and the accompanying money to localities is based around six propositions it claims would revive local democracy, transform service standards and boost economic growth.
Independent local government - This would see each ‘place’ act as a local treasury. The departments of communities and local government, transport, environment, energy, culture and parts of the Home office would be combined in an England Office to discourage the silo culture in Whitehall when it engages with localities. England’s share of UK resources would be based on need, not the Barnett formula and be shared out by local authorities collectively. This settlement would have formal constitutional protection to put it “beyond future Whitehall revision”.
Growth - Local treasuries would budget for growth and be able to impose local taxes and vary business rates. There would be local leadership of skills and jobs initiatives.
Adult social care and health - Local commissioners would direct resources through place-based public service budgets where they have the greatest impact on the health and wellbeing, with savings in acute services from more effective prevention and re-ablement reinvested in the local community.
Children - Councils would have the flexibility to redesign services around individual and family needs, bringing services and decisions together in education and children’ social care, so allowing greater investment in early intervention.
Financial sustainability - Local government would become self-funded through council tax, business rates and other taxes, all under local control with the right to set new local taxes and fees which fully recover costs.
Borrowing would be freed from Treasury restrictions scene it must already meet prudential rules. There would be a local government bond agency and the right to develop earnback deals to reinvest the proceeds of growth.
Transforming local government - The time is right to transform local government, the LGA argued, because it is more trusted than national government. It cited Ipsos MORI polling shows that 79% of people trust councils to make decisions about local services, while only 11% similarly trust central government. LGA research showed 70% of residents think councils do a good job and it said the sector was “in a strong and credible position to develop a workable model for the delivery of local public services”.
I pottered in our garden on Sunday, still reluctant to face our allotment.
*INLOGOV's new book: 'Making sense of the future: do we need a new model of public services?'
*** *** ***
Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands, who I knew from shared membership of Birmingham Friends of the Earth wrote a few days back of a localised approach to supply chains, money flow, ownership and decision-making...
When we saw the “new ideas in economics” strand of the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Poverty and Inclusion programme [now the Resources and Resilience programme], we were surprised, and pleased. It’s long been an ironic state of affairs that charitable trusts have shown limited interest in exploring the systems by which we organise our livelihoods that cause the social problems the trusts exist to solve.Neoliberalism As Water Balloon from Tim McCaskell on Vimeo.
To us, it was an opportunity to research the assumption at the heart of Localise West Midlands’ mission: that in a more localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power and resilience, reducing disconnection and inequality. Not, perhaps, a ‘new’ idea, when you consider 1960s Schumacher – but newly in need of exploration in the face of growing inequality and economic failure.
The chasm between charity and economic development thinking is mutual. There are plentiful ideas around what we have been calling community economic development: social inclusion as CSR, community-led job creation, co-ops and social enterprises, local procurement initiatives. To many economic development practitioners these are very nice projects that go into a little box labelled “voluntary sector” and have little to do with the real economy, which is about big sites, tax breaks for multinational corporations – “prostituting ourselves for inward investment” as the Centre for Local Economic Strategies‘ Neil McInroy colourfully puts it.
Our project, Mainstreaming Community Economic Development, is an attempt to take localised economies out of this little box. Firstly, to see the social potential not only of voluntary sector initiatives with social objectives, but also of private sector activity that is locally controlled and based, where the community’s participation is as owners, investors, purchasers and networkers.
And secondly to challenge what is given economic priority. Given the benefits of localised approaches, shouldn’t we try to integrate them better into our economic interventions? Shouldn’t they get a fair crack at subsidies and support structures? Shouldn’t we use cost benefit analysis to see which types of activity most maximise the returns to the local area and to those in disadvantage? It doesn’t fit into a little box, it’s just a consideration in all good decisions.
In its first stage, a review of the literature evidence for the benefits of localised economies, we found good evidence that local economies with higher levels of SMEs and local ownership perform better in terms of employment growth (especially disadvantaged and peripheral areas), social inclusion, income redistribution, health, civic engagement and wellbeing.
Such economies also support local distinctiveness and diversity, which we see as positives because of their contribution to economic resilience, economic options to suit a diversity of people, sense of place and belonging, area quality, added interest and richness of experience.
We found that a local economy largely controlled by ‘absentee landlords’ – distant private and public sector controllers with little understanding of the local area – is a recipe for economic failure. Locally-inappropriate decisions and ‘footloose’ businesses leaving the area for better economic conditions seem to combine to weaken local businesses and create a self-reinforcing cycle of decline and exclusion.
Many of our private sector case studies showed local commitment. From Birmingham Wholesale Markets to renewable energy consultancies, they demonstrated ‘enlightened self-interest’ in understanding their interdependency with local communities. Their role in an inclusive economy can’t be underestimated. If only their voices were louder than those of absentee landlords in today’s ‘pro business’, London-centric political environment.
Informed by this and our case studies we set out proposals for a strategic approach centred on local supply and demand chains, participation and control. Taken strategically, every regeneration project, every economic development decision, every spatial plan, would be based on maximising benefit to and ownership by local people, and particularly its excluded communities.
While much can be done locally, to enable CED to scale up requires national change to decentralise economic and governmental power and make changes around policy, support services, subsidies, tax, banking, infrastructure and measures of success, creating a level playing field for indigenous economic activity.
Politically, it’s helpful that localisation approaches are inherently pro-business, but also respond to public concerns over the concentrations of wealth and power that created the 2008 Crash. As we take it forward, civil society interest, international examples like Mondragon and careful use of language may help this agenda to stay out of that little box long enough to contribute towards a better economy.
** ** ** **
Jan. I’ve done this blog page on the latest LGA narrative, which meshes with others (including I hope Inlogov’s)...Let’s get together soon in York after I’ve refined the critical incidents we worked on and see how it can help evolve the political-management-professional spaces model. I like the film at the end that I’ve embedded on how neo-liberalism works. Best S
Simon. I like this. Good that we have joined the fray. I ‘m reading all the reports and documents at the moment incl those by INLOGOV. It’s good to see that some new ideas are now emerging. Without sounding too critical and acknowledging they are much better than anything I have read for a long time, there are still crucial elements missing in these publications, e.g. 'new feudalism', managing the 'vacuum', the 'intelligent criminal', inequality, strategy for managing a change in the central-local relationship i.e. how to manage a change in the power relationship and conduct the 'power struggle' this entails. All of these and related elements are necessary. These have profound implications for the political-managerial arena and what is required of the people who inhabit it. The first step is to work out how to get LAs and their partners to run with these. The LGA report may be a good start. Two perspectives need to come together. The Inside of the Box needs to meet The Outside of the Box...we could organise something for late summer/early autumn? Best Jan