NALC’s fringe event, Devo Local, held on 6th July, at the LGA Annual Conference in Bournemouth demanded that any devolution of power must begin with community involvement.
In the middle of this current political upheaval there is no time like the present to make sure power and influence rests with local people. People feel alienated and removed from the centres of decision-making.
In an era where decentralisation has to be the driving force, NALC believes that only ‘double devolution’ – where power is moved from Westminster to principal (county, district, unitary, and borough) authorities, and from there spread to local (parish and town) councils – truly brings services and decision making closer to the public.
The Government and the majority of local government seems distracted by civic devolution where all the focus is on structures of forming larger and more remote combined principal authorities – Devo Deals.
Baroness Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire County Council, said: “Local communities and businesses are not being asked about Devo Deals.
“We should be talking to communities, local councils and businesses about potential changes in their areas and how they can influence the direction of development in local places.”
Cllr Neil Clarke, chair of the District Councils Network, said: “The public are no longer prepared to just listen to and do as instructed by local and central government. They now want real influence and power.
“Devolution must be about local people working closer together. It is about collaboration instead of confrontation.”
Mark Rogers, chief executive of Birmingham City Council, responded: “Devo Deals started in the wrong place. The conversation and discussions should have started with communities and people. Furthermore before we get further into all this Government-led devolution, we should just allow communities and local councils to get on solve problems of their area.
“It falls to local government to address the implications for our places and, in doing so, this gives us a golden opportunity to show the leadership the country needs and to demonstrate that we should now be empowered to deliver a radical devolution settlement that goes far beyond the first phase of deals.
Jonathan Owen, chief executive of NALC, reminded the fringe: “That in working out what the demands of a local area are, you must involve people in how they can be met. We should never forget with local councils being so close to communities they have a better understanding of local needs.
“Our recent supplement Power to the People showed the transformative nature of these councils, with more and more of them than previously thought engaged in health, boosting the local economy, housing and social care issues.”
LGC editor, Nick Golding, chair of the fringe, said: “So much of the current
devolution debate has centered on councils grouping together or indeed merging to form ever larger units of ‘local’ government.
“Greater Manchester, the poster boy of devolution, has a total population of nearly three million, for instance. There is some irony that in many cases services are being centralised further from people’s homes in order for devolution to occur.