In today’s political scene, where the public sector is now (forcefully) encouraged to ‘do more, with less’, the new British coalition government has encouraged a decentralisation and deregulation approach. In a direct juxtaposition to the previous government one half of the coalition, the Conservatives, has championed the ‘Big Society’ not ‘Big Government’ rhetoric. Initially this seems to go hand-in-hand with the spending cuts planned as more delivery will be completed by local businesses (private and third sector) which will reduce the burden on public sector expenditure.
This shift will also incorporate the replacing of Regional Development Agencies with another ‘vehicle’ such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and will ultimately give more power and wealth to the local authorities.
On the one hand this will give a larger degree of freedom to local communities and the deregulation will cut down the level of bureaucracy. Hopefully local social enterprises, no matter how small, will be able to fairly compete for these contracts without competing against a large ‘preferred bidder’.
This system will have its downfalls. There is a huge risk that ‘Big Government’ simply gets turned into ‘Big Local Authority’ facilitating the identical issues as before but on a regional level. This in turn can lead to different boroughs operating under different protocols, thus further hindering the efficiency as standardisation of practice is lost. Maintaining and promoting this knowledge is costly, as is ‘regulating’ the Local Authorities – where will this money come from?
There is a huge opportunity for social enterprises here as they have the capacity to be able to deliver many of these services. However the risk is that a lack of understanding and information promotion of social enterprises by local authorities may well mean ‘Big Government’ does turn into ‘Big Local Authority’.
Localism can work so long as local businesses can be supported in the correct manner (which costs). If, as I fear, social enterprises are left and bundled into another grouping then localism cannot work and we may see more wastage as pre-election.
In an ideal world, this can be achieved on a smaller budget than before – this we will have to wait and see but, ironically, money may be the least of localism’s worries.