Localism, community, social enterprise, mutualism and a thesaurus of similar words roll off the lips of ministers across the Conservative led Government as if these were the sole political inheritance of the Centre Right. But of course they are not.
The same Government is cutting public services and support for communities and community organisations too deeply and too fast. It is centralising power whilst talking about localism. It is full of contradictions but its intent is clear.
Labour at national and local level must oppose the degree of the Conservative-led Government’s public expenditure cuts and the centralising policies but in so doing it should be careful to avoid adopting a traditional oppositionist stance or defending every past policy or existing service. This will be unsustainable and could jeopardise Labour’s opportunities to retake the agenda for progressive ends.
Labour has to develop a twin track approach. It has to focus on how Labour-controlled local authorities should respond to the expenditure cuts in order to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable in their communities and protect the communities’ long term interests and infrastructure.
Their responsibilities and contracts with the communities mean that they have to work within the system imposed by the Government – they cannot simply take to protest marches – important as these are for there must be a political campaign. They can, of course, consider some tax raising options. Imaginative and bold leadership will be required.
No Labour councillor should defend inefficiency or services no longer fit for purpose; or be fearful of working with the private and community sectors when this can benefit local people; but equally they must not abandon principle and fundamental commitments to communities, staff and others.
The second track is to develop a long progressive democratic socialist vision for communities, the relationship at a local level between state and citizen, and the constitutional position and role of local government. This reform may involve considering new forms of local government and accountability embracing health, police, welfare, criminal justice and transport as well as traditional local government.
We need a new pattern of local service commissioning with greater community and individual choice and personalisation, and new delivery models including consumer and worker led co-operatives, trade union led co-operatives and voluntary and community sector provided services.
This policy development is required now as it can help shape Labour councillors’ immediate responses to the current Government’s agenda and help to build the Party’s credibility in localities. It could attract new alliances and create progressive coalitions in localities. It has to include a partnership with the public sector trade unions as well was with the community and voluntary sectors.
Labour has always championed community and voluntary action; mutualism and co-operatives (consumer and worker); and seen the state at local and national level as a means of addressing inequality of opportunity and attainment; creating and managing major public infrastructure and services to tackle the five giants of “want, disease, squalor, idleness and ignorance”; and providing safety. There is nothing incompatible between advocating a strong supportive state and local community and voluntary action – these are mutually dependent.
Now is the time for an urgent and radical debate about the future of localism – we have to recapture and redefine this agenda.
John Tizard is Director of the Centre for Public Service Partnerships
- IPPR's Reg Platt on capturing the benefits of the Green Deal http://progloc/ 2011/08/07
- RT @ProgressOnline: Why I launched @ProgLoc by @AnnaTurley - to galvanise the troops and support the next generation http://bit.ly/opcZJt 2011/07/28