Last month Nesta published its report “Mass Localism”, which builds on an emerging theme in political and activist circles. Last year John Denham led the charge with “Making Local the Answer” lecture at the RSA, ironically saying after 10 years plus of centralisation “local” is the big idea…
The Nesta report is OK, wishful thinking in places and idealistic perhaps but the application of community led approaches to achieve sustainability goals (“The Big Green Challenge”) may have some lessons for a cash strapped public sector who need to allocate limited funds (but perhaps lets not call it a “challenge” or competition). It also suggests that the local angle can be delivered in poorer communities as well as the more affluent, where active village leaders are thought to be much easier to find.
Expect to hear a lot of buzzwords like localism and communities over the next four weeks of electioneering, but probably less and less after one of the parties actually gets elected. The Conservatives are speaking about “big society” instead of “big state” and want to recruit 5,000 “community organisers”, with a new role for government ( “no role for government” is not what David Cameron is telling the Guardian readership, who unsurprisingly don’t appear to believe him).
But I always thought that centralising and controlling is the default political mode (just see episode 16, “The Challenge” of YesMinister for a masterful exposition of the ground rules by Sir Humphrey). For my part I am looking to see what the new neighbourhood business model will be when we want to deliver HS2 – perhaps 263 separate sections of track autonomously funded, built and managed by enthusiasts?