Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive at Locality
Devolution is the perfect opportunity for reimaging our local democracy –for a renaissance in neighbourhood level governance.
However, if devolution is to achieve greater community empowerment then there needs to be a genuine commitment within devolution deals to ‘onward devolution’. Otherwise, with new layers of sub-regional governance, we risk simply shifting some marginal responsibilities between parts of the public sector, and actually push influence, power and resources further away from communities.
We recently produced a report with NAVCA outlining five key principles that need to be at the heart of devolution. These are: creating a social economy; representation of VCSEs within governance structures; accountability through community engagement; decisions taken at the most local level appropriate; and working with local organisations to transform public services.
The potential of devolution to revive local economies is clear – but growth and new investment needs to be driven by local priorities. It needs to strengthen communities and prioritise social inclusion, creating economies which work for the people in them.
Devolution is also a key opportunity to transform our public services –to look at how co-design and co-production, with local organisations and communities, can deliver local public services which provide better outcomes and value for money.
To ensure that devolution reaches the neighbourhood level and that local people are able to take more control in shaping and transforming where they live, new models of neighbourhood governance are needed.
One route could be to adapt the neighbourhood forum model (community-led bodies which can be given planning powers by local authorities) and devolve new powers, building on and strengthening Community Rights. This could also include enabling existing community organisations to become designated forums – with a menu of additional rights and powers on spending and service delivery which they could trigger following negotiations with local authorities.
Devolution must be more than a technocratic exercise: it needs to genuinely strengthen community involvement in decision making.