Genuine engagment should be about better decision making. But often the realiity of the bureuacratic process is to make the process more expensive and more protracted without any tangible benefit.

There is interesting transcript of a roundtable discussion on localism hosted by the think tank Reform where Cllr David Lloyd, the Deputy Leader of Hertfordshire County Council said:

If you take as an analogy the NHS closing hospitals and Tesco closing stores, Tesco will close a store almost overnight and will put something through your door the next day saying we’re opening a new store just down the road and here are some vouchers so you can actually spend there for the first time to see where it is and how it works. If you look at what the NHS does, it ‘engages’. 

They’ve been engaging in Hemel Hempstead for ten years about the closure of a hospital. Actually it’s a running sore in Hemel Hempstead. In local government, there’s a feeling you’ve got to involve the public. I think perhaps we try to involve the public for too long.

Another participant was Cllr Nick Botterill, the Deputy Leader of Hammmersmith and Fulham Council. Nick talked about how localism could be strengthened by community groups taking the ownership of from local councils of community buildings. The snag was when the groups had the expectation they should be given them for free.

Nick said:

The financial situation has meant obviously that we’re all looking for more value for money delivery mechanisms. And one of our big things in Hammersmith and Fulham is the release of assets. We’re lucky to be in a part of London where property values are still very high and we sit on an enormous number of buildings. So that’s allowed us to engage with people in terms of the services that are delivered from those buildings, how they’re delivered, who owns the buildings, can the community in various shapes or forms come together to buy those assets and take them off us – at fair value of course.

But equally it’s been a source of antagonism to localism. For instance you have a very little used, underused community facility which most people in the area wouldn’t know exists. And suddenly you’ve got a massive campaign on your hands. And their view of localism is you should give us this building gratis and maybe we’ll charge you to run it. So whilst it has opened Pandora’s box, at the moment I think we are getting somewhere with getting people to take these assets on in a way that we feel is in harmony with the principle of localism.