The Conservative manifesto doesn't use the word "localism." But it is a big theme of the content. Often it will mean releasing power to the individual. Sometimes that will mean greater accountability for Councils. There will have to be more transparent about their spending. Sometimes it will mean handing power down from Whitehall to Town Halls. The following section outlines plans to reverse decades of centralisation:
We will give democratically accountable local government much greater power to improve their citizens’ lives by
- giving local councils a ‘general power of competence’, so that they have explicit authority to do what is necessary to improve their communities;
- ending ring-fencing so that funding can be spent on local priorities;
- scrapping the hundreds of process targets Labour have imposed on councils;
- ending the bureaucratic inspection regime that stops councils focusing on residents’
- scrapping Labour’s uncompleted plans to impose unwieldy and expensive unitary councils and to force the regionalisation of the fire service;
- ending the ‘predetermination rules’ that prevent councillors speaking up about issues that they have campaigned on; and,
- encouraging the greater use of ward budgets for councillors.
We have seen that a single municipal leader can inject dynamism and ambition into their communities. So, initially, we will give the citizens in each of England’s twelve largest cities the chance of having an elected mayor. Big decisions should be made by those who are democratically accountable, not by remote and costly quangos. We will abolish the Government Office for London as part of our plan to devolve more power downwards to the London Boroughs and the Mayor of London.
Decentralising control must go hand in hand with creating much greater transparency in local government. Power without information is not enough. We will implement fully the Sustainable Communities Act, and reintroduce the Sustainable Communities Act(Amendment) Bill as government legislation, to give people greater information on, and control over, what is being spent by each government agency in their area.
Our plans to decentralise power will only work properly if there is a strong, independent and vibrant local media to hold local authorities to account. We will sweep away the rules that stop local newspapers owning other local media platforms and create a new network of local television stations. And we will tighten the rules on taxpayer-funded publicity spending by town halls.
On planning, it says:
The planning system is vital for a strong economy, for an attractive and sustainable environment, and for a successful democracy. A Conservative government will introduce a new ‘open source’ planning system. This will mean that people in each neighbourhood will be able to specify what kind of development they want to see in their area. These neighbourhood plans will be consolidated into
a local plan.
We will abolish the entire bureaucratic and undemocratic tier of regional planning, including the Regional Spatial Strategies and building targets.
Developers will have to pay a tariff to the local authority to compensate the community for loss of amenity and costs of additional infrastructure. The tariff will replace the payments and levies on development that have grown up under Labour. A portion of this tariff will be kept by the neighbourhoods in which a given development takes place, providing clear incentives for communities which go for growth.
Significant local projects, like new housing estates, will have to be designed through a collaborative process that has involved the neighbourhood. Immediate neighbours will have a new role – with a faster approvals process for planning applications where neighbours raise no objections.
At the national level, for all forms of development, we will publish and present to Parliament for debate a simple and consolidated national planning framework, which will set out national economic and environmental priorities.
To give communities greater control over planning, we will:
- abolish the power of planning inspectors to rewrite local plans;
- amend the ‘Use Classes Order’ so that people can use buildings for any purpose allowed in the local plan;
- limit appeals against local planning decisions to cases that involve abuse of process or failure to apply the local plan;
- encourage county councils and unitary authorities to compile infrastructure plans;
- give local planning authorities and other public authorities a duty to co-operate with one another; and,
- allow neighbourhoods to stop the practice of ‘garden grabbing’.
On Council Tax referendums and community ownership, it says:
We want to give individuals more direct control over how they are governed. So, mirroring our reforms at the national level, we will give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue if 5 per cent of the local population sign up, and they will also be able to veto any proposed high council tax increases. We will stop Labour’s plans to impose supplementary business rates on firms if a majority do not give their consent.
Nothing underlines the powerlessness that many communities feel more than the loss of essential services, like post offices and pubs, because of decisions made by distant bureaucrats. Our new ‘community right to buy’ scheme will give local people the power to protect any community assets that are threatened with closure.
In addition, we will:
- give people a ‘right to bid’ to run any community service instead of the state; and,
- reform the governance arrangements in football to enable co-operative ownership models to be established by supporters.
When it comes to schools localism will mean less power for Councils. Schools for special measure for more than a year can be taken from the clutches of a Town Hall and taken over by an Academy provider. They will "break down barriers to entry" for new schools – that means town planners. More power for heads will also mean less power in Town Halls – for instance "heads being overruled by bureaucrats on exclusions."
To my mind there is nothing illogical about localism sometimes meaning more power for Town Halls, sometimes power being taken from them. In any event as a local councillor seeking to make a difference these proposals would represent a net gain. The other point, which the manifesto doesn't make, is that scrapping all the "process targets" – would save money. A HUGE amount of money. £4.5 billion according to the LGA.