Alex Massie

How Serious are the Tories about Localism?

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This chart, pinched from Burning Our Money, shows how much work needs to be done if the Conservatives' talk of handing power back to local communities is actually likely to amount to anything. As you can see, local government raises more of its own money in almost every other leading country. Only Ireland, Greece and, to my surprise, the Netherlands are more dependent upon central government.(Meanwhile, over on the good side of the chart are our friends in Australia and, especially, New Zealand.)

Real Localism - and all the good things that are supposed to flow from it - demands a measure of fiscal responsibility. Without that accountability the rest is largely window-dressing. Pretty window-dressing but window-dressing nonetheless.

Perhaps there are other means of addressing this issue but power isn't really power unless it comes with revenue responsibilities as well as spending privileges. At the moment the Tories often seem to be full of fine intentions but there's a little less beef to their proposals than might be considered ideal. Only a cynic, of course, could think this might be deliberate or, heaven forbid, that there might be less to the Tories Big Idea than there seems to be.

Just as the logic of Tory education policy demands to be extended to the NHS, so it warrants being extended to local government too. If the people are to be "freed" that means they have to have control, or at least greater control, of the purse strings. Right? Otherwise localism merely permits you a choice of managers, not a real choice of policy or exploration of what local control might achieve. And that, frankly, doesn't seem a Very Big Idea at all.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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