“Power should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.”
- Open Public Services White Paper
The focus on decentralisation is based on the same rationale as the focus on choice and control. The Government believes that control of services should be as close to the individual user as possible, and in the case of services used collectively by a community, control should be given to the closest representative body to that community.
Localism has been a prominent motivation for both the Coalition partners. Since its 2008 policy paper ‘Control Shift: Returning Power to Local Communities’, localism has been at the heart of Conservative party policy. Senior Tory Lord Heseltine also sounded the clarion call for localism in his foreward to the 2009 Localis paper ‘Can Localism Deliver?’, in which he wrote of an ‘alarming accumulation of central power’. Localism has also been a longstanding interest of the Liberal Democrats, and in 2009, the party launched a Localism and Decentralisation Working Group to investigate the impact of a localist agenda on people’s everyday lives. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats perceived that power was becoming unhealthily concentrated in Whitehall under Labour, and vowed to delineate more responsibilities to local authorities. Through the Localism Act 2011, the Government legislated many reforms to deliver this vow, including the creation of directly elected mayors, and granting councils a general power of competence.
Where has this been delivered?
- The Education Act 2011 provides teachers with increased authority to discipline pupils and ensure good behaviour.
- The Education Act also reduces bureaucratic burdens to provide schools and local authorities with greater freedom to decide how to carry out their work.
Local Authority services
- The Localism Act 2011 grants councils a general power of competence, i.e. rather than having to rely on a statutory power before taking action, local authorities can assume they have full power to act unless there is specific legislation prohibiting them.
- The Localism Act also allows local authorities to return to the committee system, the council system used before the introduction of cabinets twelve years ago, if they desire.
- It abolishes the Standards Board regime, whereby a national body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government oversaw the code of conduct for local authority members.
- It reforms the Housing Revenue Account System in order to allow councils to keep their rental income and use it to fund their housing stock.
- It provides for the creation of directly elected mayors in local authorities specified by the Secretary of State, though nine major cities rejected the offer in a 2012 referendum.
- The Localism Act gives local authorities the power to determine who should qualify for social housing within their areas.
Health and Care services
- The Health and Social Care Act 2012 creates clinical commissioning groups, made up of GPs, at least one nurse, and a secondary care specialist, overseen by the NHS Commissioning Board, to directly commission services for their populations.
- It gives local authorities a new role to join up local services through the creation of Health and Wellbeing Boards.
- The Health and Social Care Act removes unnecessary tiers of management.
- The Welfare Reform Act 2012 abolishes elements of the discretionary social fund and introduces new locally-administered assistance.
- The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 gives local authorities power to prosecute offences, and associated offences under this act, on behalf of housing associations and other local authorities.
- The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act also enables social landlords to seek an unlawful profit order.
Law and Order Services
- The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 replaces the Metropolitan Police Authority with the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime, run by the Mayor of London.
- The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act also amends the Licensing Act 2003 to give police and local authorities stronger powers to remove licenses from, or refuse to grant licences to, premises causing problems.
- It allows local councils to charge more for late-night licenses to pay for additional policing.
- The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act enables local authorities to attach powers of seizure and retention of any property in connection with the breach of a byelaw.
- The Public Bodies Act 2011 gives Welsh ministers powers to modify and transfer the functions of environmental bodies in Wales.