More steps in the localism shuffle

Earlier today both Chris White and Nick Barlow pointed out how the government’s localism agenda (formerly known as the man in Whitehall doesn’t know best) has taken two steps back this week.

But for the two steps back, there are also two steps forward: with councils being given more discretion to decide what parking charges should be in their own patch (a piece of localism which will most likely see some Conservative councils downplay environmental considerations in setting charges, but if you believe in local decision-making…) and also, hooray, scrapping the “pre-determination rule” in England.

You may have missed the protesting chants, “What do we want?” “An end to the ban on pre-determination”, mostly because they’ve not existed. But it is a very welcome move.

Consider the previous situation.

Resident is annoyed about a plan for their community.

Resident decides to stand for council to do something about it.

Resident campaigns, saying “Vote for me so I can stop this plan”.

Residents vote for said resident.

Resident becomes a councillor.

Plan comes up for vote at council…

… and council lawyer steps in: “Terribly sorry, but hang on a moment. Congratulations on getting elected and all that – but as you said you would oppose the plan if elected that means you’d already made up your mind before this council debate started. And you’re not allowed to do that. So you’re banned from voting”.

The pre-determination rule was deeply anti-democratic: it banned council candidates from telling voters their views on certain issues unless they wanted to then lose the right to vote on them.

Steps back, steps forward: keeping track of the localism shuffle is by no means a simple affair, especially as some of the steps forward are coming from Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats. But what it does mean is that keeping up the pressure on decentralisation is important – and especially for councillors who can use councillor and council associations to get their views through to ministers.

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