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That system of localism works. My biggest regret, looking back, is that I was too timid on pushing further flexibility in the secondary curriculum. Perhaps I should have listened more to my supporting Peers, my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Puttnam. My noble friend Lord Adonis was a valued colleague as a Minister and has transformed education in London through London Challenge, which means that London schools now outperform the national average-although, come to think of it, that was a somewhat centralising programme. However, his academies programme has transformed the educational chances of whole communities by allowing local flexibility and innovation where local authorities were failing to maintain standards-true localism at its best.
My noble friend Lord Puttnam has in turn taught me much about education as the crucible of the future. Aside from the great film that he made with Sir Michael Barber, he also recently introduced me to Sir Ken Robinson. For those of your Lordships who are so minded, please go to YouTube to find Ken's TED lecture on creativity in education. If ever there was the perfect speech about what is wrong with the centralised
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Our centralised system reveres the past at the expense of the future. It is still basically a post-war system geared around training people to be academic professors, at its peak, and for the majority to go into unskilled work. That is not what the future needs; it is not what the majority needs; it is not what engages children; and it is not what local economies need. More local freedom to engage children and their parents, to do what it takes to unlock their enthusiasm and skills, to value other talents alongside academic ones and to feed the required skills into the local economy-that is good localism. However, that does not mean 23,000 independent schools. I still believe in accountability. Every school and academy means an obscene centralisation of accountability through the Secretary of State that I believe to be unsustainable, inflexible and doomed to failure.
My Chief Whip advised me to thank everyone, be a bit funny, not too controversial and not too long. I fear that I may have failed. Let me conclude on this. Localism works, but so does centralism. We need both. The current Government are doing and will do both. The former will be dressed up as enabling, as the big society; the latter as efficiency and value for money; and the wheel will come full circle. What is really exciting is how we can then use new technology to digitise public services and get the best of both worlds-but that is a speech for another day.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it is always a privilege and a pleasure to welcome new colleagues on behalf of the whole House, and I do so very warmly in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. Few of us now have genetic links with this House; most of us are the objects of quite recent patronage. I see from the noble Lord's biography that he has a background in performance arts-I am not talking about the cabaret along the Corridor-and he is a great campaigner. He was the HouseMagazine campaigner of the year four years ago, and I am sure that he will be able to use this House as a platform for continued campaigning. He will be known nationally for his distinguished ministerial career. I, for one, was at least as impressed by his career in local government, holding senior positions at local level-doing, as he said local, real things. We look forward to hearing much more from him; I, for one, agreed with a great deal of what he just said.
I welcome this debate, and its title: not decentralisation, which is local administration of central government, but devolution-in other words, local government as we would wish it to be. What a challenging time to try to make these changes. Expectations have been raised, and local communities are more likely to have come up with ideas for spending than for saving, and will share those ideas through the social media to which the noble Lord just referred. That is a speedy-indeed,
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I acknowledge and applaud the recognition that real people, not just politicians, should have a real role in providing as well as using services. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Perry-to whom I am very grateful for introducing a topic very dear to my heart-I think that we must not lose sight of the importance of and the strains on the third sector. Local authorities have long depended very much on it. I ask-rhetorically perhaps-how should we assist strangers to become friendly competitors in this slightly changed world? How should we ensure the accountability of groups that will receive public money? In other words, what is the interface between localism and accountability?
There are two changes that would be most democratic and would give most power to local people. The first is electoral reform. It could be that only English local government will have a voting system that is not reformed although, ironically, it has the basic infrastructure of multimember wards that makes it most appropriate for reform. The second is meaningful local tax-raising powers. Central government has announced that council tax will be frozen next year, a decision that I suspect many local authorities would have taken for themselves. I hope that the Minister will explain to the House the thinking behind the announcement and the necessity to pre-empt local decisions.
Indeed, there are a number of matters on which I hope the Minister will give the context and detail of how they forward the devolution agenda. The first is the choice of democratic structure. It seems only two minutes ago that we were changing democratic structures, but it was in 2000. I was asked at the time how I came to a view about the correct population number for authorities to be able to retain the committee system, as I was leading a number of colleagues in resisting changes that were proposed. I have to say that it was a matter of horse trading. There was nothing technical about it. I hope that in future local authorities will not just have a straight choice between current structures and the old committee structures but will be allowed to find their own ways of combining the best features for themselves. However, it seems that there will be no choice if you are one of the 12 largest cities that are to have mayors, subject to a confirmatory referendum. I understand that it will be a negative referendum-in other words, a referendum not to have a mayor-which will be quite interesting to explain to voters. It will be a different sort of campaign. As I understand it, the current leader will become the shadow mayor as of May next year.
To go from perhaps the sublime to the gorblimey, we have heard that local authorities are going to have to collect refuse every week. Mr Clarke of the coalition Government yesterday showed that he is not driven by the Daily Mail, which was terrific to hear. I hope that on refuse collection, about which the press frequently writes rather alarmingly, local decisions on how to
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Yesterday, someone said to me that we are no longer allowed to use the term "total place". I do not believe that the Government are in the business of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Whatever it is called, the substance is important, supported by area-based budgeting and the power of general competence, which we will welcome very much.
I turn to two areas which have already been mentioned. On planning, we need early clarity on how the reforms will work for local authorities and developers, which we know need certainty. On housing, I am delighted that community land trusts have already been mentioned. Citizen-led approaches fit perfectly with the local agenda. It seems that there is a willingness by some land owners to offer up land for CLTs, provided that they can be certain that affordability will be retained in perpetuity.
I am not sure whether the Government Office for London is sublime or gorblimey. It has long been argued that it is inappropriate to have a government office in London given that it has its elected city government. I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the dismantling of GOL. It seems that all civil servants are going back to their home departments. I hope that this is not a move upwards. I have heard that so far there will be savings of only about £15 million, which seems small. We look for bolder steps.
I should declare two interests which pull in slightly different directions. I am one of three co-presidents of London Councils and a past member and chair of the London Assembly. I welcome the dismantling, but it is not enough. I welcome more powers for the mayor, but they will not be enough. I do not have time to speak at length about the role of the London Assembly, but a new devolution settlement for London should be clear and rigorous about what should rest with the GLA and what should be devolved to the local level-to the boroughs, which are close to their communities. They have shown themselves to be capable of joint working where that is required. The London Assembly is a constituent part of the GLA, but it needs more powers. I suggest that the right to block mayoral policies and strategies by a two-thirds majority would be one of those.
Local government is where my heart is. This House is lucky to have a Minister whose heart I know is in the same place. We look forward to hearing from her and to her introduction of what I hope will be a devolution and not a decentralisation Bill in the autumn.
Lord Wei: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for obtaining this debate, which is extremely well timed. I also welcome the insightful and eloquent maiden contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and I look forward very much to the forthcoming maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy.
A key principle of the big society as expressed in government policy across the board is to give people more power closer to where they live-in effect, to
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As has been mentioned, we live in a relatively centralised democracy, with powers concentrated in the hands of the few. This places accountability mainly in the hands of Parliament to regulate and monitor both government and itself, and to the media to hold government to account through ad hoc public challenge and exposure-but only infrequently at some elections is there a feeling of real accountability to the voters. This state of affairs leaves many ordinary citizens disillusioned and disconnected from power. It can feed a sense of apathy and reliance on government for solutions, rather than a sense that citizens together can make improvements that fit their circumstances, resources and geographies with government and other institutions in more of a supportive or facilitative role.
For all the rhetoric of previous Governments, the model to date has in general been rooted in the notion of the controlling state rather than the enabling state. There is a sense that big government-the assumption that government has all the answers-while it achieved much in the 20th century, is no longer fit for purpose and that reforming it will require not just a piecemeal devolution-a referendum here or a right to be consulted there-but a radical approach to shifting power at every level, a control shift, which combines new ideas with a rediscovery of ancient values. This shift starts in Westminster in exploring how this House and the other place can best function and represent the nation, and how we can relate more equally with the devolved Administrations; in how data in Whitehall are more widely shared about costs and impact through a right to data policy; and even in the bringing back of true Cabinet government and greater trust in the Civil Service.
It continues with an emphasis on shifting powers to local authorities; namely, powers of competence to determine their own future financially and non-financially, powers to have elected mayors, and, in the abolition of regional spatial strategies, powers to return decision-making on housing, enterprise and planning to councils and localities. It is expressed in greater trust in front-line professionals, with a reduction in the amount of targets being collected across various departments and other bureaucracy so that professionals can focus on serving citizens and communities whether on the beat, in the community, or in the classroom. It continues in giving public sector workers the right to bid to form employee-owned co-operatives to take over the services that they deliver, and in allowing some of our highest performing schools to become academies and new ones to be established.
The shift continues in measures which allow the further opening up of hitherto central or local authority run or owned services and assets to third parties, such as social enterprises, and to citizen groups so that they can be co- or wholly citizen-designed, run, and/or bid for or taken over with payment by results. It continues as monopolies in state provision are opened up in education, healthcare and social care, and in central and local procurement, supported by the release of local data on costs and performance, such as through crime maps, and in the promotion of open-source processes to enhance and involve citizen participation in planning, budgeting, debating and myriad other activities.
In the long term, we have the opportunity to enshrine rights for, and to remove barriers to, neighbourhood groups at the most local level so that they can engage with, run and shape even more the services that affect them; to collaborate with each other and with enabling bodies such as local authorities, social enterprises and other local anchor institutions to achieve critical mass and scale where needed; to tackle critical and complex problems; and to exist without uncalled for interference and costs being imposed on them where they are clearly behaving responsibly. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is indeed a radical shift.
There will of course be challenges in implementing this ambitious programme. The first is the ability of each protagonist in the chain to exercise its new powers responsibly and effectively. The second is the capacity for communities, particularly those in deprived and resource-constrained environments, to make use of these new powers and data to bring about improvement. That is a challenge which I and my colleagues in the Office for Civil Society in particular are wrestling with through policies such as community organisers, the community first grant programme, and the big society bank. The third is the willingness and ability of players along this tapestry-local authorities, newly elected mayors and social enterprises-to seize this opportunity to act and to take responsibility, and for us not always automatically to blame the centre when things go wrong.
The fourth challenge is when the shift of power is not accompanied by a shift in resources-for example, when councils cut grants to effective social enterprises because they represent external costs which are much easier to deal with than internal ones such as staff. Players, be they government departments, local authorities, social enterprises or citizens' groups, that handle this shift well and responsibly deserve our praise and support, while those that abuse their new-found powers and do not pass them down deserve scrutiny and challenge, not just from us at the centre but from the people, through greater transparency and local media interest.
We must also accept that at times there will be failure from which we must learn and move on-that is the risk you take when you trust people and institutions-and recognise that often a local rather than a systemic response for failure works best, unless the failure is genuinely systemic. In essence, we want small failures, not large ones. We must also recognise that such challenges will mean that the pace of change
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This is fine as long as progress is still being made across the board and the state is always on hand to protect the vulnerable. New skills will be needed to help effect the culture change and transitions that will be required. Central government will need to become more risk-aware and less risk-averse. Councils may need to learn to facilitate more and deliver and even commission alone less or in less onerous ways. Front-line staff and commissioners of services will need to take into account more than just a pure short-term value-for-money argument in their decisions. They will need to understand what will drive long-term sustainability and savings in their locality and to build bridging social capital through greater citizen and non-governmental inclusion in service delivery, whether that be through restorative justice circles, patient expert groups and new mutual forms of social care such as demonstrated through Southwark Circle.
We will also need to make sure that transparent citizen feedback, harnessing technology where possible, is used to generate continued pressure for devolution and improvement, learning from businesses such as Amazon and eBay so as to avoid having to create regulations and bureaucracy in order to keep track of the myriad actors and players that will be involved in this new landscape. For this to work, it is clear that central government cannot act alone. Just the act of publishing data and passing new laws can achieve a great deal, but local authorities, social enterprises and other intermediary bodies that stand between the centre and the citizens where they live will have a huge role to play in making such laws and information usable, ensuring that local capacity and engagement exists, and ensuring that changes are fair.
Even then, it will require millions of citizens, a veritable "civic service", to want to make use of their rights, to take responsibility to help deliver, hold to account or feed back on progress, and not once more just leave it to a few to carry the rest of us. Will such a civic service arise, building on the great multiplicity of action that already exists? Will local institutions step up to the mark? Can Government willingly give up so much power? Do we have any other choice? I do not believe we do, and so we must try. But more than hope for the best, the challenge for all of us is to work together to bring about this shift, and it will require our finest minds, our most enlightened officials and politicians, our most able social entrepreneurs and forward-looking public servants, and our most innovative and determined citizens up and down the land to make lasting and real progress.
It is my belief, however, that we can do it. One short true story illustrates my point and demonstrates to me that this programme, while ambitious, is possible. A certain engaged citizen I know, William Perrin, lived on a street in King's Cross which eight years ago had severe social problems-exploding cars, endemic fly-tipping and severe anti-social behaviour, including a crack dealer living in a caravan right in front of his house. William and his neighbours got stuck in to volunteer community work, but after several years the
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This story, replicated in myriad different ways across the country, can contribute over time to a stronger and more content society as our social ties grow; to a more balanced economy as we transition resources and people from the public into the community and private sectors, and could even allow us once more to help inspire other countries around the world as they too wrestle with how to build partnerships between government and civil society, and to design their civil administrations in a way that empowers people. Imagine what more could be done if we can achieve the shift that this Government wish to make happen and see it lived out in millions of stories such as the one I have just mentioned. We can do it if, together, we can overcome the obstacles that we will surely face, and if as many of us as possible are able to play a responsible and appropriate role, however large or small, whether online or offline.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, it is with more than the usual trepidation that I rise to speak because after 13 years in the Government Whips' Office, it is now around 14 years since I last made a speech in the Palace of Westminster. I join other colleagues in thanking all the staff and Members who have made me extremely welcome. I have never been in quite such a warm and friendly place. I have been in many a warm place along the corridor, but the welcome I have received and the friendship shown here augurs well.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on choosing the subject of our debate today. I also thank her for that because it allows me to speak about something I feel quite comfortable with, which is localism. Most folk would describe me as being a great fan of parochialism, but I make no apology for that. The emphasis in the debate has been on localism and local connections. I have my own local connections to declare because the place I was born and brought up in, and represent, are quite extensive. My wife Eleanor and I were both born and brought up in the Burnhill area of the Royal Borough of Rutherglen. We were married there and we have always stayed there. Our four sons all reside no more than half a mile from our house, and that connection is very important to me. Connections to this House have been mentioned, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that my grandfather, who was an immigrant from the north of Ireland to the west coast of Scotland, definitely had no connections
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The west of Scotland has a reputation-undeserved-of being male dominated, but in reality it was and still is the women who are the strong characters. In my own family, the three most influential people were my grandmother, my mother and my late sister. I think about them and those connections every day. Before I became a Member of the Commons, I worked in the Hoover factory in Cambuslang as a forklift truck driver. I was heavily involved in the local community council and the tenants' association and became the chair of those organisations. I also became a Strathclyde regional councillor. To me, that council was the epitome of decentralisation because at the time it was the largest local authority in Europe, covering 2.5 million people. But the decentralisation and devolution of power that took place were real. Effectively, the council was divided into six sub-divisions with power being devolved to local people. The combined experience of working with the community and in the then Strathclyde Regional Council has shaped all my attitudes since then to public life. You get the best out of communities and out of people if you work together-not in a deceptive way by pretending to agree with one another, but on real community issues it is so easy to get agreement and people working together.
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