Back in October 2016, we reported on European Local Democracy Week and the Eurobarometer survey released in which the UK scored particularly strongly. Between 2008 and 2016, British citizen’s trust in local and regional authorities grew by six per cent and some 53% of those surveyed in the UK expressed trust in the mechanism of local democracy. In an earlier YouGov 2015 poll, results revealed that residents trusted their local representatives twice as much as their counterparts in Westminster.
Six months on, we question again, why does local matter? The very fact that we must still ask this fundamental question demonstrates the value in focusing our attention on the merits of the localism agenda. The term localism itself doesn’t hold much popular currency for the simple fact that it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Those who shun the idea argue that localism discriminates in favour of local at the expense of more “efficient” and “collective” national approaches. The World Trade Organisation for example, bars governments from discriminating in favour of local in the name of free trade and economic competition. As our Prime Minister moves to trigger Article 50 next Wednesday (29 March 2017), Cratus will consider during the upcoming conciliation and transition periods how Brexit trade negotiations will impact the localism agenda, particularly in respect of economic decision-making at the local levels of government.
So why does local matter?
A locally focused agenda promotes growth at source, preserves local cultures, educates communities and builds a greater understanding of important issues at the local level. A locally focussed agenda supports and empowers communities. Residents connect to local governance when individuals accept that, “someone is listening to us.” When activities are supported at the local level, they become a clear expression of a community and issues can be revisited when they become periodically topical in a way that a nationally-funded programme or agenda cannot.
A local school, a local youth programme, a local infrastructure project can arguably be more efficient at source but the perception in the public sector, more centrally, remains that national programmes are a more efficient means of implementation because a joined-up approach can secure greater economies of scale. To that, I say local communities must do more to communicate and share best practice models with neighbouring authorities.
A focus on local helps communities come together with common purpose. Local connects many different voices. Local drives conversation because residents anticipate the direct impact of decision-making at this level. Community Councils, Parish Councils, District and Borough Councils carry out constitutional activities which openly serve as a public record of public input, something private companies pay handsomely for using survation, focus groups and community engagement programmes.
Often described as boring or dull by those who do not regularly monitor them, constituted groups such as community councils encourage engagement using public platforms for volunteers to promote the aims and interests of their community. A national outlook won’t always understand the delicate nuances and historical scars of a community, or what matters are of most importance to residents.
Local can remove economic biases of wider regions and country stereotypes. We may all live in the UK but we do not all live in the same place, affected by the same issues. Yes, we may all be affected by the Chancellor’s budgetary announcements but there is so much more that is unique to our location – culture, environment and employment opportunity to name only a few from a non-exhaustive list.
Cratus engages in political reporting every day. We monitor parliamentary activity in Westminster, City Hall, Holyrood and in numerous local authorities across the UK. We carry out desk-based research, undertake discussions with stakeholders on the ground, we use a local and national approach in our investigations. We read between the lines of the Hampshire Chronicle or the Farnham Herald, we scour the comments section of the Daily Echo, we monitor local council meetings and observe the silence at critical and/or controversial points during public debate. We do this because we know that local matters. We do this because we recognise the valued, unique and informed contributions made through the activities of localism. At Cratus, our world is local and we know that matters.