Is the term ‘localism’ used by government to promote outcomes that contradict its original meaning?

james robertson headerA thoughtful appraisal of localism by Ekklesia’s staff writers was brought to our attention by James Robertson’s December newsletter. To read it in full click on this link.

A new research project, Localism Watch, examines the impact of the coalition government’s ‘localism’ initiatives, which they say have helped to privatise local services, weaken local government and force voluntary groups to pick up the pieces.

localism watch header

The editor, Laird Ryan (below left) has held several senior roles in government, academia and the voluntary sector. His findings: many local councillors, charity organisers, community groups and trades unions have a limited and confused idea of what new powers they have gained or lost from recent laws that supposedly promote localism:

“Officially, the Localism Act 2011 will “shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils”, through new community rights and planning powers” but, to date, few communities have successfully claimed them, due to complex and expensive bureaucracy.

laird ryan“True localism goes against the grain of Britain’s ruling culture”, argues Laird Ryan. “Whether left or right-leaning, national policies are more likely to benefit people at the centre than people at the grassroots.”

Language is being manipulated – using ‘localism’ to describe policies that centralise power and maximise corporate profits. One example supporting this assertion is the 2013 Growth and Infrastructure Act; though even its explanatory notes were not helpful to the writer.

Ekklesia’s staff writers say:

  • it curtails citizens’ rights to have a say in major planning proposals such as HS2 allows larger home extensions without planning consent
  • and permits drilling under property without the owners’ consent for fracking or oil extraction.

And several developments have confirmed Ryan’s summary: “Under Cameron, local communities can challenge councils to run public services, but they have lost their right to challenge proposals for nuclear proliferation, fracking or HS2”.

Localisation: local government listens to citizens and neighbours – in Japan

A week after Japan switched off its last nuclear power plant in response to the disaster in Fukushima, the rural town council of Oi approved the restart of two reactors under its jurisdiction.

Oi is heavily dependent on the taxes, jobs and subsidies that the industry provides.

“A prolonged shutdown would diminish tax revenues and impact the local economy,” Japanese media quoted one councillor as saying.

Oi’s decision does not mean the two reactors will immediately be turned back on: Fukui prefecture must also agree to restart them, while leaders of other cities and prefectures in the region have expressed concerns or, in some cases, outright opposition and the sensitive nature of the nuclear debate means national officials and power companies are reluctant to override their objections and search for a consensus.

The utility and the government have warned that western cities such as Osaka might have to endure mandatory limits on usage this summer, but Toru Hashimoto, Osaka’s mayor,  leader of the anti-nuclear lobby in the region, believes official estimates of supply shortfalls are exaggerated, and says the city could get through the summer with smaller, voluntary savings by citizens.

Local government leaders in the Kansai region have now voiced their opposition to restarting the reactors, despite calls from central government officials asking for their support.

East Asia Forum reports that an Asahi Shimbun public opinion poll on 11 March 2012, showed that 57% oppose restarting nuclear reactors and 80% do not trust the government’s safety measures.