Post-Covid Councils: The Location of Power

Debating the Location of Power

The Covid-19 crisis, and how it has been managed in the UK, has highlighted problems that are either caused or exacerbated by the drastic imbalance of power throughout the country.

The failures of our overly centralised approach are serious. They are evident in the Government’s failed crisis measures, the failure to develop an effective testing regime, or the bizarre and myopic approach to implementing track and trace without engaging in anyway with public health and other local government colleagues who know exactly how to do this because they do it routinely, all the time. But on top of this there are crisis issues in council finances, social care, children’s services, housing, homelessness, high streets and local growth, which did not spring up overnight.

This is not a one-off hiccup in UK politics. It is a longstanding failure of governance. The current moment should be an opportunity to redress this imbalance, and think about how we move power to the places and the people who can actually use if effectively.

Moving power down will be crucial if the Government is even going to get close to its ambitions of “levelling up” the country or “building back better”. It is not just a “nice to have”, it is integral to the success of those proposals.

Sadly, so far we have a seriously delayed White Paper on devolution, that looks like it will be watered down to a narrow focus on centrally directed economic growth targets. We also have a government that has been preoccupied with questions of structure and reorganising local government around Whitehall convenience.

In our discussion last week, we heard about the capacity, innovation and ingenuity in local areas, particularly those like Cornwall, where new approaches to governance and new ways of working with local communities are practiced. In our report we feature the amazing work going on in other places, including Colchester, Kirklees, Greater Manchester and Kent. More and more, councils are seeing their role as leaders of place, as agents for promoting and strengthening wellbeing.

Elsewhere it is councils like Barking and Dagenham in London, not central government, that are devising models and frameworks for measuring how policy impacts the things that actually matter in peoples lives. Finding ways to demonstrate and value wellbeing over crude measures of economic activity, is sure to be important in devising new and more effective forms of governing in the future.

Over the coming weeks we will publish a range of pieces under the banner of the Location of Power, including: international comparisons  showing that different possibilities are out there; an assessment of how power has been increasingly centralised under the current government and since the crisis in particular; and a proposal for developing a metric that helps us to measure and compare  different levels of centralisation or localisation.

Please get in touch if you would like to hear more, or if you would like to contribute to the debate: [email protected].

Power down to level up

Debating the Role of Place and the Prospects for Decentralisation

Following the launch of our Location of Power work, and our latest report on place shaping and power, we hosted an exciting discussion panel on 9 October that took a closer look at some of the key themes of our research.

If you missed the event, which featured Jessie Hamshar from Cornwall Council, and Dr Patrick Diamond of Queen Mary, University of London, who worked with us on the report, then fear not, you can catch up with the video here and read the presentation slides on ‘Power of periphery and place governance in dispersed economies‘.

And you can catch up with the report here.

Power Down to Level Up

LGIU has launched a new research paper, Power Down to Level Up: Resilient Place-Shaping for a Post-Covid Age.

Moving power down will be crucial if the Government is even going to get close to its ambitions of “levelling up” the country or “building back better”. It is not just a “nice to have”, it is integral to the success of those proposals.

Centre-Local Relations and the Pandemic

In this comment article, Joseph Ward, Doctoral Researcher in POLSIS at the University of Birmingham, outlines how dealing with Covid-19 and the implementation of local lockdowns has shifted power in the central-local government relationship and how local and regional governments might intervene on behalf of their local communities.

Read Joseph’s article here.