LGIU says, “Government must hand power down to level up”
New report suggests local places hold the key to post-Covid recovery
Today, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) launches a new report, Power Down to Level Up: Resilient Place-Shaping for a Post-Covid Age, arguing that power must be decentralised and rebalanced around the needs of local places to achieve the Government’s aim of levelling up and building back better.
With much discussion and speculation around the Government’s Devolution and Recovery White Paper (delays and all), this report sets out the need to develop a clear idea of the balance of power across the country and between places. Rather than a blinkered and badly timed rush to impose new structures, there are immediate steps that the Government should take to promote empowered and resilient places.
All too often this debate has been shaped by the interests and concerns of central government. It is vital in this moment to refocus UK governance on place if we are to develop tools of governing that enable communities to thrive in the future. In the report, the LGIU concludes that we need to overcome entrenched orthodoxies about where local capacity lies, the nature of power in the modern state, and how we best measure policy success. Key recommendations in the report include calls for more fiscal devolution, citizen-centred public services, cutting Whitehall red tape, promoting a sustainable local economy and strengthening local public health.
The research for this paper was conducted by Andrew Walker of the LGIU with Dr Patrick Diamond of the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, and grant funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), to build up an understanding of the recent history of place-shaping in English governance. Through a series of interviews, site visits and seminars with LGIU member councils, a set of ideas and case studies are developed that demonstrate locally distinct approaches to “place” and place-shaping.
To mark the launch of the report and the latest pillar in the LGIU’s Post-Covid Councils project (the location of power), we will be hosting a panel discussion on Friday, October 9th (10am-11am) on the prospects for the White Paper, the Government’s plans for local government and devolution and the implications these have for rebalancing power throughout the UK. The panel will be hosted by LGIU’s Andrew Walker and will include speakers Jessie Hamshar (Director of Strategy and Engagement, Cornwall Council) and Dr Patrick Diamond. If you would like to join this launch event please RSVP here.
Andrew Walker, Head of Research, at LGIU, said: “Central government must wake up to the nature of the challenges that are playing out in our local areas. They must realise that the power hoarding model of governance in this country is not only embarrassing internationally, but fails even on its own terms to deliver changes and strengthen communities.
If they won’t find ways to reset the balance and location of real power throughout the country now, in the light of the combined efforts of the past six months, then when will they?
Surely our collective imagination can stretch beyond a system that merely copes with crisis and feeds an ambition to return to “normal”. The imperative to redress the power imbalance is to allow us to move beyond crisis management towards resilience, flexibility and adaptability. But more than that, it is to support and empower local communities to flourish.
Councils managing the shock of Covid-19 in local areas lack the powers, resources, data and infrastructure they need from Whitehall to do their job. Instead, many policy levers are jealously guarded by central government. This follows the disruption and uncertainty created by Brexit, which has so far been met with centrally mandated initiatives like the Government’s “levelling up” agenda.
The Government’s aim of levelling up and building back better in local communities will only be achieved with a local, place-focussed approach to governance. As outlined in today’s report, local councils need the resources and levers to undertake place-shaping that promotes the well-being and resilience of communities and citizens across the UK.”
Notes to editors
This report is part of LGIU’s Post-Covid Councils project, which explores the future of local government post-Covid-19 and the key areas that need to be addressed as we move towards recovery. The key topics covered include sustainability, place-shaping, public trust and the location of power.
An embargoed copy of the report is available upon request.
The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) is a think tank and membership body with over 200 councils and other organisations subscribing to our networks. We work to strengthen local democracy and put citizens in control of their own lives, communities and local services. For more information, visit lgiu.org.