I am not impressed with this new word “localism”. It travels along the same linguistic line as the phrase “Big Society”. It is an utterly meaningless word in the hands of avowed neoliberals. The term “localism” has been coined to present a friendlier face to the savage cuts that are about to be made to local government finances. The localism in question is originally derived from Hannan and Carswell’s Randist-inspired treatise, The Plan- Twelve Months to Renew Britain. Make no mistake, the general thrust of the government’s localist agenda is to remove forever the link between local people and the only bulwark they have between them and the excesses of central government. Thatcher abolished the metropolitan county councils precisely because they stood in opposition to her policies. The current plan carries this idea much further by eliminating the possibilities for town halls to spend money on social projects, since the money that comes from central government is to be dramatically reduced.
Last week, Eric Pickles, the local government minister announced his plans for ‘localism’. Pickles says on his Twitter feed,
Localism Bill will be introduced next Monday. Lots of power to to Councils
Central to the bill, and to the decentralisation, is the general power of confidence (GPC) being given to councils. Through this, authorities are given the freedom to make social, economic and environmental decisions for their local areas, rather than being subject to top-down targets.
But how empowered councils will be in reality is up for debate. Experts warn there is a distinct lack of financial freedom partnering the GPC which could hamper any true reform.
The Guardian asks the same question that I and many others have been thinking: how will this bill “empower” councils? Local authorities will have no more power to control their finances than they do already. The paper adds,
David Walker, the former managing director of public reporting at theAudit Commission, argues that the localism bill is in fact a con and that underneath its glossy exterior of power to the people, councils will have no more financial control than at present.
The government’s ‘localism’ project is another means by which to shape British society along the lines of Randist individualism. This means that people are disconnected from their peers and the society in which they live and are remoulded as individual consumers of reified products in a localized, but highly artificial, market place. Even the Conservative-run Local Goverment Association is finding Pickle’s localism hard to stomach. The Guardian,
The Local Government Association (LGA) is predicting 140,000 job losses over the next four years and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting predict that 70,000 of those could come in the next year alone.
Pickles has already slammed the Conservative-run LGA for scaremongering on job losses and making up figures “on the back of a fag packet”, but the front-loading of the cuts in particular risks another confrontation between central and local government.
The Localism Bill is nothing more than a smokescreen that will enable thousands of local government jobs to be cut under the name of the Big Society, the Unite union has said.
Precisely. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave. But Pickles is adamant,
“I believe it is possible to cut significant sums out of local authorities by simply improving the way local authorities operate.”
He told the BBC that councils have “simply got to wake up to the fact that it is no longer viable to have their own chief executives, their own legal departments their own education departments, their own planning departments”.
Which begs the question, why have elected local councils in the first place if this is who the government views them? This hasn’t been explained. Some councils like Barnet have cut back so severely on their public services that they may as well not exist as local authorities. Such ‘reforms’ are guaranteed to make councils into nothing more than a rubber stamp for outsourced public service contracts. As such, councillors will arguably be less accountable to their electorate. It seems to me that local authorities will have to outsource even more of their services to private interests. Companies will be invited to tender; the company that claims to be able to provide the service for the lowest cost, wins the contract. The emphasis is not on quality but what can be done for the least cost. This raises a problematic: the service provider that runs say, social services cheaply will not necessarily produce work of quality. We could see more Victoria Climbies and Baby Peters because of these highly experimental policies. But social services is one area of local authority provision where the cuts will impact the poor and the vulnerable the most. The rich will not have to worry about local provision of social services because they have the economic capital to deal with their own affairs.
As I pointed out earlier, the objective of the Localism Bill is reduce the possibility for councils to oppose any government diktats at a local level. This is also a social engineering project that is being sold as a decentralization of power. It is a dishonest attempt to foist unwanted cuts on those who are already vulnerable and those who are about to be made vulnerable. This is a form of politicized misanthropy that is dressed up as empowerment. Like the Big Society, Localism is another marketing idea that has been dreamt up by people who place their trust in the sign alone. Philosophically empty and devoid of any real meaning, Localism is likely to kill rather than cure.
Resist the cuts!
UPDATE: 20/1/11 @ 1950
Changed “state” to “central government”.