Localism Agenda

Localism emphasises the value of local, small scale activities as opposed to those on a national or global scale. In everything from food production to politics there is an increasing focus on “where” as well as “what”. The idea of strengthening local democracy so that more decisions are made by local people rather than central government enjoys broad political support. Reforms linked to the government's Big Society Agenda seek to encourage people to take an active role in solving problems and delivering public services in the places that they live, typified by the Decentralisation and Localism Bill 2010. 

What are the implications?

  • Increased focus on the work of smaller local charities rather than larger national ones.
  • Fewer national targets and fewer ring-fenced centrally allocated budgets such as Sure Start; instead councils will have more say over how their budget is spent.
  • The introduction of innovations such as participatory budgeting, which gets local people and service users involved with setting spending priorities.
  • A register of assets that are important to local communities such as pubs, libraries and shops, and a community right to buy when these assets are sold.
  • A community right to challenge, which will allow local groups to trigger a full procurement process for some locally delivered services.
  • Political changes introducing more directly elected mayors, and giving people the right to instigate a non-binding referendum on any local issue.
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships charged with economic development, replacing larger regional bodies.
  • A possible increase in inequality between local areas as different communities focus on different priorities (see inequalities between local areas).

Moving forward

  • Will the balance of power return to local branches of national charities rather than the centre? How can you ensure that your work has a local focus?
  • How can you persuade local councils to fund your work given wider constraints on public spending? (see constrained public spending)
  • How can you ensure that your beneficiaries are involved with local decision making to ensure that vulnerable groups are not marginalised?
  • Are there community assets under threat in your community that you could work to save? What assets should be protected – can you work to have them added to your local register?
  • Are there public services that you could deliver more effectively than public sector providers? Are you ready to bid against private sector providers? (see procurement practice)
  • Should you be involved in your Local Enterprise Partnerships? How can you make sure the contribution of local VCS organisations is not overlooked?

Want to know more?

Equality, Entitlements and Localism

Published by: IPPR – the Institute of Public Policy Research a left-of centre think tank.

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A paper exploring impact of localism on minority groups.

How useful is this? It clearly outlines the issues and risks of localism for minority groups, but suggests a solution in the recent Equalities Bill which for the first time requires public bodies to take equalities issues into account for all policy making.

Mass Localism

Published by: NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts - an independent body with a mission to make the UK more innovative).

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A report proposing a new approach to localism.

How useful is it? It explains how localism may be used to tackle global problems. Using the example of a climate challenge which awarded prizes to local groups who came up with the best way of reducing their carbon emissions, it argues that encouraging local groups to come up with their own solutions is much more effective in getting people to change their behaviour than centrally designed optimal solutions.

Delivering a Localist Future: a route map for change

Published by: 2020 Public Services Trust

Date: March 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A report looking at what the practical barriers are which stand in the way of localism being achieved, and how these could be overcome.

How useful is it?  Useful article which, although written prior to the general election has predicted where cuts might take place and how a change in parliamentary control might influence the localism discussion. Also has a number of case studies from councils who have developed some localism initiatives.

NCVO Briefing on the Decentralisation and Localism Bill

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2011

Format: PDF

What is it? A briefing written by the NCVO Policy team.

How useful is this? It sets out the key measures in the bill for the voluntary sector, explaining each of the reforms in the bill.

Last updated at 10:51 Fri 04/Feb/11.

Recent comments


Written as Policy Officer at NCVO

The localism agenda is moving forward at a rapid pace, and the requirements of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act are now being implemented. NCVO have produced a briefing on some of the developments .

In addition to this, the Sustainable Communities Act also passed last year. DCLG have published a guide to the Sustainable Communities Act

DCLG have now released the final guidance you may also be interested in reading NCVOs briefing and response to the consultation on the draft guidance

DCLG have also published a Principles for third sector representation on Local Strategic Partnerships

The new performance framework for localities will inevitably have a huge impact on locally based and locally operating voluntary and community organisations.

LSPs will continue to grow in importance as the main vehicles to agree the vision of, and priorities for, localities; Local Area Agreements will be the delivery mechanism to achieve these priorities.

Written as Policy Officer at NCVO

I thought it might be useful to follow the above post with some more info on how the government is moving this agenda forward. The Communities in Control White Paper was published in July, and it has been accompanied by a raft of consultations, including:

NCVO has responsed to these consultations.

Communities in Control has been heralded by the government as the next step in terms of the devolutionary agenda – with last years Local Government Act devolving power to the town hall, will this white paper and the forthcoming Act really devolve power to people?

I think that localism and empowerment are certainly going to be high on the political agenda for some time to come. Devolving power and the questions around how to get more people involved in local decision making are of interest to all political parties. Following the publication of their recent green paper on civil society, it will be interesting to read the forthcoming Conservative ‘centre-right’ local government green paper and learn more about what they have planned for localism and empowerment.

The issues discussed in the white paper have also been debated in the media and the blogosphere quite extensively, with wide ranging opinions and many questions posed – can you really legislate for greater citizen engagement? Are voting incentives akin to bribing people for their votes? and is engagement delusory?

Written as Policy Officer at NCVO

The Governments agenda on localism and local democracy is still moving forward. The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on Thursday 4th December, with the second reading planned for Wednesday 17th Dec.

The proposals that NCVO is particularly interested are related to:

  • Local Democracy – including the proposed duty on local govt to promote democracy (to stimulate debate, improve democratic understanding and take up of civic roles)
  • Economic Development – including the proposed duty on local govt to prepare an assessment of the economic conditions in an area
  • Compact – we anticipate the Government will lay an amendment concerning statutory provisions in relation to the Commission for the Compact.

An NCVO briefing is now available.

Moving further its agenda on localism and local democracy, in July this year the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation on ‘Strengthening Local Democracy’ (PDF 400KB). The document set out a range of proposals, intended to increase the powers and responsibilities of local government and strengthen the role of councillors, particularly in relation to their scrutiny of public services and public spending.

We initially produced an NCVO briefing on the 'Strengthening Local Democracy Consultation' (PDF 110KB). Our main concern was that any new proposal should be informed by the views and experience of VCOs, and should ensure the best balance between participative and representative democracy.

NCVO has long argued that decision-making should be devolved to the local level as much as possible and that there is a need to strengthen local democracy. Enabling greater participation through devolved decision making is an important step toward reducing the local democratic deficit, and truly engaging with people. But in order to have strong local communities, both representative and participative democracy must be valued and enabled to thrive. While strengthening the powers of local authorities should enable them to better respond to local needs, acting decisively and effectively on behalf of their citizens, a strong and vibrant civil society is also required. We know how VCOs have an invaluable role in fostering citizen engagement by giving voice to a range of different interests and concerns, and ensuring people have the skills, confidence and support they need to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

NCVO's response to the 'Strengthening Local Democracy Consultation' (PDF 114KB) is therefore informed by the requirement that local authorities understand and support the invaluable contribution VCOs make in engaging with individuals and communities, and recognise the value of working in partnership with the VCS. Our belief is that the VCS is capable of playing an even greater part in solving the problems of civil society and local democracy than it does at present.

The focus of the consultation, and of our response, was of course on democratic processes and structures. And we welcomed the debate: it is important that there are more opportunities for people to participate directly in decisions that affect their lives. But here at NCVO we also think that now is the time when it is equally important for people to come together and debate the bigger questions that should be at the heart of politics: what kind of society do we want to create? What are the values we want to base it on? Join NCVO’s debate on The Good Society by telling us what it means to you.

Jess's picture


Third Sector Foresight

On the issue of empowered local communities, I have been intrigued by some of the recent developments in my own community, which arguably seems to be evolving along the much-mooted Big Society ideal.

Following the collapse in funding for a Café & Skills Centre, run by the support and housing charity Carr-Gomm, locals set up a not-for-profit called Bold Vision to get a community space up and running in the area again. What’s striking is about this replacement project, is the emphasis on the need for the new facilities to be financially secure and sustainable in the long run, rather than simply lurching from grant to grant as it did before.

The building itself was renovated by locals giving their free time at the weekends, and funded through a series of start up grants and donations. The project is now funded partly through an innovative new local membership scheme (Bold Backers) and profit making activities, and has really begun to take off.

Now – what is the role of a charity in all this?

With the spectre of collapses in funding and services before us, it’s likely that new initiatives like this one will start to emerge – albeit in the wealthier, skills-rich areas. How can we support fledgling charities and not-for-profits, and help to replicate success where we find it in those areas with more limited local resources? And how can we help ensure that much needed services (like those provided by Carr-Gomm) don't simply drop off the agenda for community-led projects like this?

Even with the best will in the world, local activists are very unlikely to use the success of their model to start up projects in other areas. Perhaps the role of civil society service providers in this region would be to pick up on innovations like this, and help others access the skills and models that have worked in neighbouring areas. An argument for infrastructure? Maybe.

Last, but certainly not least, if you’re interested in localism and participation issues, keep an eye on the excellent Pathways through participation research project that’s currently looking into journeys of participation for people living in three different UK communities. With localism creeping higher and higher up the agenda, keeping up with findings around participation and engagement should be at the top many of our 'to do' lists!

Want to find out more? Catch up with the latest on our dicussions around attitudes towards community responsibility.

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I completely agree with your notes John. What kind of support exists in your area for this?

Our work described as People-Centered Economic Development advocates for the replication of localised people-centered economics on a global basis. In 1999 this had begun in Russia by sourcing a development initiative in the city of Tomsk which would leverage a community bank and establish 10,000 micro businesses within the next 5 years.

In 2004 we introduced this to the UK with a proposal for seed funding social enterprise at the community level with a 'community interest' approach to rural broadband deployment which would render profit to CDFIs


We moved on later in 2004 to put these concepts into the context of national scale deployment of microeconomic development and social enterprise in Ukraine.

As yet, there has been no opportunity to engage with UK government on this.

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