Service Transformation


The future of localism

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 17

There have been a lot of opportunities for democratic participation in the UK recently – a referendum, local elections, six new metro mayors and now a snap general election, all within the last 12 months, reflects Tony Armstrong, chief executive at Locality. But beyond these frequent trips to the polling station, how are the citizens of Britain really involved in shaping the decisions that affect them?

The last six years have seen big initiatives and new legislation for bringing power closer to communities. The Localism Act established an important suite of community rights, giving local people valuable recourses for saving local assets and tools for shaping local planning and development. More recently, English devolution has laid some foundations for more localised economies and public services. 

But we are a long way off transforming the way power is dispersed in this country. Devolution deals have been patchy in their engagement with communities and civil society. Turnout at last month’s mayoral elections failed to reach above 30%, perhaps evidence of its lacklustre appeal and lack of resonance with people. And the combined authority approach risks pushing decision-making further away from neighbourhoods, simply realigning the centre of power to the sub-regional level. 

The importance of community decision-making 

Community decision-making must be at the heart of devolution, not just because it is essential for building a healthier democracy, but because empowering communities unlocks their capacity to build better places from the ground up. Up until this point, devolution has tended to focus on physical infrastructure: how giving local areas more control over transport or housing can create more dynamic local economies. The new metro mayors now need to seize this moment to go further and be much more ambitious for the empowerment potential of devolution. It is by harnessing the power of our civic infrastructure – our people power – that we will deliver the inclusive growth we need. 

Before surprising us all by calling a general election, the government outlined its new Industrial Strategy, and there seems to be a growing realisation – from all the major parties – that we need to reframe and rebalance economic growth and integrate locally-led priorities. However, we have yet to see communities take centre stage. The new government will need to go further to maximise the role of neighbourhood approaches to economic resilience, invest in local community enterprise and empower communities to take on and own common assets. 

Reinvigorating local democracy 

Last month, in association with Power to Change, we established an independent commission on the Future of Localism, chaired by Lord Kerslake, to uncover what is needed to reinvigorate local democracy and empower communities. 

Localism is the key to reshaping our country post-Brexit. We need to forge a new civic settlement and turn the referendum campaign slogan ‘take back control’ into a productive conversation about how power is shared between citizen and state, and how local initiatives are empowered to thrive. 

Whilst devolution is part of this, a new vision for localism needs to be about more than devolving powers and responsibilities to local government. It needs to be about people’s sense of belonging, identity and connectedness. It needs to be reflected in the way people experience their own agency and capacity to influence and shape what happens in their local area. 

When people are involved in neighbourhood initiatives and see the value of collective action, this can help build the foundations for a more participatory democracy. Instead of democracy being something beginning and ending at the ballot box every few years, it is instead transformed through the actions and energies of our communities. 

Ultimately, I hope the commission will be able to draw on the research, ideas and experience already out there to reinvigorate the intentions of localism and bring power closer to neighbourhoods.


To find out more about the commission and to respond to the call for evidence, visit:



There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

London council ‘negligent and in denial’ over tower blocks at risk of collapse

22/06/2018London council ‘negligent and in denial’ over tower blocks at risk of collapse

Two tower blocks in North London are at risk of collapse, with the area’s council announcing it wants to begin re-housing residents “... more >
Christchurch allowed into High Court over Dorset council merger battle

22/06/2018Christchurch allowed into High Court over Dorset council merger battle

An ongoing battle between Christchurch Borough Council and a planned council merger has been given the go-ahead to proceed to the High Court. ... more >
Government does not ‘currently have understanding’ of skills businesses need going through Brexit

22/06/2018Government does not ‘currently have understanding’ of skills businesses need going through Brexit

Government departments “do not have sufficient understanding” of what skills UK businesses need, or how Brexit will impact the supply... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
View all News

the raven's daily blog

The work of the vanguards can help overcome the challenges of integrated care

29/05/2018The work of the vanguards can help overcome the challenges of integrated care

Following the announcement of the second wave of integrated care systems (ICSs), NHS Providers, the NHS Confederation, NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) and the LGA reflect on how lessons learnt by members from across the four organisations – that have designed and worked together as part of the vanguards – will support the j... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >


Grenfell, one year on

18/06/2018Grenfell, one year on

In the year since the Grenfell Tower disaster, the LGA has been working tirelessly to ramp up fire safety regulations and ban ‘desktop&rsqu... more >
Brexit's long shadow over devolution

18/06/2018Brexit's long shadow over devolution

The EU Referendum and the stop-start Brexit negotiations have left a looming shadow of uncertainty over devolution in the UK, writes Anthony Sala... more >
Decisions, decisions

18/06/2018Decisions, decisions

The true social value of procurement comes from asking challenging questions and thinking outside the box, argues Melissa Bell, sustainable procu... more >
Finding the balance

18/06/2018Finding the balance

Douglas White, head of advocacy at the Carnegie UK Trust, evaluates the risk-benefit relationship of data sharing within the public sector, highl... more >


Data at the heart of digital transformation

03/04/2018Data at the heart of digital transformation

SPONSORED INTERVIEW Grant Caley, UK & Ireland chief technologist at NetApp, speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the benefits of movin... more >
GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

03/04/2018GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

SPONSORED INTERVIEW PSE’s Josh Mines chats to Martin de Martini, CIO of Y Soft, about what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)... more >
Keeping London safe

05/03/2018Keeping London safe

Theo Blackwell, London’s first-ever chief digital officer (CDO), speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the role he plays in ensuring the... more >
BIM: Digitising the public sector

19/02/2018BIM: Digitising the public sector

PSE’s Josh Mines talks to Stephen Crompton, CTO at GroupBC, and Stuart Bell, the company’s sales and marketing director, about how Bu... more >

public sector focus

  • 12/06/2018G-Cloud 10: small changes, big opportunities

    Rafael Cortes, Foehn head of marketing, explains how G-Cloud 10 should be a catalyst for innovative solutions and not a source of complacency. It was...
  • 04/06/2018Targets and tribulations

    David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, walks us through the university’s research into the apprenticeship levy, as well as...
  • 30/04/2018The legacy of Grenfell

    PSE’s Seamus McDonnell looks at the reactions of councils and the government to the Grenfell Tower fire, from the immediate aftermath to the...
View all News