Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities

Work in progress

Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities

Taking back control means more than just transferring power from Brussels to Whitehall, it means placing empowered communities at the country’s constitutional core. Localism has the potential to deliver real democratic accountability that can eradicate the appeal of empty populist promises, but only if done in a way that delivers real power to people.

Decentralise, Democratise, Deliver is a research programme to complement Localis’ work on the dynamic of central and local government, examining the other side of the localist coin: the relationship between councils and neighbourhood communities. Having produced Local Delivery in May 2020, we are now looking to move onto the next phase: Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities.

The promise of subsidiarity, or double devolution, as a mechanism for giving communities greater power and control over decision-making and resources, has been promise much vaunted of but largely unfulfilled.  There are exceptions, but on the whole it has been regarded a faded new localist dawn at best.

From a localist viewpoint, this failure to achieve devolutionary potential must be seen as a risk ahead of the imminent and eagerly-awaited arrival of Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper.  This is set to put into motion a new wave of unitary local authorities and Mayoral Combined Authorities serving ever larger populations – when England already has the largest units of local government across Europe.  In this context, the gap between the promise and reality of double devolution is liable to be construed as a convenient political fig-leaf – masking the failure to hold a fundamental debate about the role of local government, neighbourhood democracy and the relationship between centre and locality.

There is much to be learned from common practice drawn across continental Europe and also from a wider international perspective.  For example, Professor Patrick Sharkey has highlighted – in response to the widespread social uprest sparked by the murder of George Floyd – how across America, in the two decades since the LA riots, investment in local neighbourhood organisations has been instrumental in reducing violence and improving local outcomes through the self-organizing and, sometimes, self-healing capacities of human communities.

Starting from the view that the devolution journey must be as open, accessible and as meaningful as possible for communities and places to thrive in an inclusive and sustainable way, this research project will develop an evidence base to explain the mechanisms and tools for giving communities greater powers and control.

A particular focus will be given to examples of double devolution that don’t leave poorer or  ‘left behind’ areas, further behind.  A subsidiary objective will be to investigate the potential of increasing digital participation and reducing digital exclusion as a precursor to better representation that serves the interests of strengthening community.

Project kindly supported by: