We had a fascinating day in Stockport today discussing the Localism Bill with council and community workers from across the NW. We were pleased to have Andrew Stunell giving the key note address. He began by laying down a promise and a challenge: a promise that the coalition really mean it about localism and a challenge to local government to take up what he termed a “licence to fix things” and to push localism forward without guidance or a code of practice from central government.
There was a window, he contended, of three to four years in which to really embed localism, but this could only happen if local government and communities worked together to a make it a reality.
We heard from Cllr Goddard, leader of Stockport, about their approach to engaging local communities in determining local priorities through a participatory budgeting programme operating under the rather more catchy title of ‘you say, we pay’.
Other sessions looked at the community right to challenge, neighbourhood planning, and the general power of competence.
Most of the contributions reflected elements both Stunell’s promise and challenge
We heard about the huge potential benefits of getting citizens engaged and the difficulties of getting them interested and we reflected on the different capacity of different communities.
We wondered about whether the bill goes far enough to get community organisations involved in public service delivery or whether they will be frozen out by the procurement process.
We debated how whether neighbourhood planning is a nimby’s charter or a developer’s dream.
And we asked whether the general power of competence will make any real difference
In all these instances it seems possible that the bill could be really transformative but equally that it could make little difference.
In other words it’s not what’s on the face of the bill but the way in which local authorities choose to interpret and apply it.
And that takes us back to Andrew Stunell’s original challenge.
There was, I think, a sense in the room that local government has an appetite for this challenge but there’s no illusion about how hard it will be or of the risks it entails.
As always with these events we generated more questions than answers, but perhaps that’s a good first step.