Localism and blind faith
Matthew Taylor is an intelligent liberal commentator, so I was interested in what he might have to say about the virtues of ‘localism’.
And in pointing out what’s wrong with the centralizing tendencies under New Labour (itself a continuation of Thatcherite and Majorite doctrine) he talks good sense.
In particular, I like his point that:
The messages sent by the centre (especially if there are lots of them) are very different to the messages eventually heard at the front line.’
This reflects my own earlier contentions, around the Welfare Reform bill, that the intentions of that bill might actually have been good ones, at least in a naive communitarian sense, but that by the time it has all fed through into implementation all of the good intentions will have been lost at the expense of a bureaucratic hounding of the poor.
Matthew is less good, though, on what to do about this over-centralizing tendency in UK governance.
He has, it seems, been seduced by the superficial attractions of the Conservatives’ ‘localism’ agenda, to the extent that, in the absence of Labour willingness to confront the problem, and sclerosis within Whitehall:
[I]t may have to be a different administration that makes the shift.
Sorry. That’s utter, utter bollox, however briefly set out.
In offering up this bollox, it has to be said, Matthew’s not alone. Many public policy wonks have been taken in, including the New Local Government Network, who, with someone as good a natural leftie as Anna Turley to guide them (see para. 54) really should know better; perhaps they are unable or unwilling to judge what’s actually going on at the front-line.
So let’s just be very clear about what the Conservative localism agenda is all about. Beneath the veneer of ‘power to the people’, the Conservative localism agenda is all about creating an environment for massive cuts in public service delivery. Nothing more, nothing less.
Dave has so ably shown that the Conservatives’ sudden new enthusiasm for co-ops is nothing more than a smokescreen for service reductions and the start of a race to the competitive bottom.
I have (perhaps less ably) provided ample evidence that Cameron’s eagerness to sign off ‘General Powers of Competence’ legislation ‘within weeks’ of coming into government, simply provides local authorities with absolute freedom to do what they want, and creates a back door way of enabling them to do as little as they can now get away with, and then outsource the rest in a Ridley-ite orgasm of contracting skeleton services to the lowest bidder; this will generally be the bidder most able and willing to exploit a reduced number of workers most effectively.
We know what will happen, because under the most ideologically driven Conservative councils, it’s already happening.
Kate Belgrave has been reporting for two years on what’s been happing in Barnet, even before it gained its EasyCouncil title. Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex county council until thrown out of office for alleged theft, has already driven through a massive sale of every service under the Essex sun to IBM, and Lancashire County Council is embarking on the same scheme, without even bothering to tell either councillors or unions what they’re up to, leaving it the guys at Computer Weekly to bring us the news of a contract notice worth £1.9 billion for all IT-related services, including services there’s very little IT involved, not just in their own council but all the second tier councils in their area as well.
How is that localism, exactly?
No wonder Conservative Central Office, in a move not entirely compatible with the supposed spirit of localism, has already instructed from on high council tax freezes not for one but for two years, irrespective of local conditions, local needs, local people, local jobs.
Localism, my arse.
The Tory agenda is clear, and I’m just a bit surprised at how people are being taken in by the rhetoric, though at least Dan Drillsa-Milgrom gets it right.
(Hat tip to Anthony Painter via twitter for the link to Matthew’s post.)