There are undoubtedly some worrying aspects about the Localism Bill – not to mention the perverse incentives to stay poor enshrined in the change in housing tenant status – but overall it is an important and urgent piece of legislation.
I’ve sent out in the New Economics Foundation blog how the ideas in it have emerged here. Slightly triumphalist, but the genesis of some of the policies in the Sustainable Communities Act are pretty clear.
But one of the first reactions thrown up has confirmed what Simon Jenkins used to say about the BBC: they do have a policy; it is to centralise.
I heard him say that years ago while I was listening to an item on You and Yours asking when the government was going to legislate to make people’s front door numbers legible. It was dramatically confirmed yesterday when they used a clip from the Vicar of Dibley to illustrate how parish councils might work under the Localism Bill.
This reveals partly that the BBC is ignorant of the difference between a parish council and a parochial church council. It also reveals their staggering snobbery about the idea of local people taking decisions, and about local government in general.
That isn’t to say that there are no risks in devolving decisions quite so radically. I’m not clear what provisions there will be for appeals and oversight. There will certainly be mistakes and abuses. But they will be less than the sheer inflexibility, the vast waste of resources, the demoralisation and the damage done by the centralised system, and the certainty of that continuing without some kind of major decentralisation.
So stuff the BBC, I say – and the idea that decisions can only taken, under close guidance, by Oxbridge types with Masters in Public Administration. And only then, very occasionally. What the Localism Bill sets out is a means by which neighbourhoods can begin to take charge of their own destiny.
Yes, many of them won't. Yes, there are also cuts. Yes, many local authorities have dismal jobsworth cultures after decades of recruitment on the basis of obedience to process. But this is the beginning of a way out of dull, clone town mediocrity, which impacts far more heavily on poor people than rich ones, and I’m excited about it.
Brixham Harbour in the summer of 1997
19 hours ago