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Published on October 8th, 2011 | by Gavin Pearson
Image ©

Dumping Garbage at the Croton Landfill Operation - ©US National Archives
Two years ago no Tory could say a sentence without the word “localism” included at least once. This week Eric Pickles and George Osborne came close to banning the word. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made the one big and simple policy announcement of the conference season. It wasn’t unexpected. It was a repetition of past policy. It won headlines everywhere. That policy was to block councils from raising their income by raising their council taxes. This will be popular. It may also boost the economy in tough times. But, popular or sensible or not, this was a national policy dictating local actions. This was George Osborne saying he doesn’t trust local people to make local decisions. It was, in every sense, the reverse of localism. And then cam bin policy. Everyone knows their local council collects the bins. They rarely care whether an in-house team of council-paid staff collect the trash or what what company might do it instead. They mostly just want it collected and taken away. And they know that’s the council’s job. Yet this, the most local of local services, is now no longer a local matter. Eric Pickles, once the champion of localism in Parliament, has signalled the extent to which localism is limited. He has told councils how to collect the rubbish and he is bribing them to do what he tells them. With £250million to pay councils to dance to Westminster’s tune, Mr Pickles seems to believe the man in Whitehall knows best after all. Local people and local councils can still decide that a fortnightly collection is adequately safe, efficient and environmentally friendly. But with their budgets cut already, the offer of cold hard cash to ignore all of that and do what they are told may seem irresistible. And so, like so many governments past, power being devolved has seemingly hit its limits again.

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Localism binned

Dumping Garbage at the Croton Landfill Operation – ©US National Archives

Two years ago no Tory could say a sentence without the word “localism” included at least once. This week Eric Pickles and George Osborne came close to banning the word.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer made the one big and simple policy announcement of the conference season. It wasn’t unexpected. It was a repetition of past policy. It won headlines everywhere. That policy was to block councils from raising their income by raising their council taxes.

This will be popular. It may also boost the economy in tough times. But, popular or sensible or not, this was a national policy dictating local actions. This was George Osborne saying he doesn’t trust local people to make local decisions. It was, in every sense, the reverse of localism.

And then cam bin policy.

Everyone knows their local council collects the bins. They rarely care whether an in-house team of council-paid staff collect the trash or what what company might do it instead. They mostly just want it collected and taken away. And they know that’s the council’s job.

Yet this, the most local of local services, is now no longer a local matter. Eric Pickles, once the champion of localism in Parliament, has signalled the extent to which localism is limited. He has told councils how to collect the rubbish and he is bribing them to do what he tells them.

With £250million to pay councils to dance to Westminster’s tune, Mr Pickles seems to believe the man in Whitehall knows best after all. Local people and local councils can still decide that a fortnightly collection is adequately safe, efficient and environmentally friendly. But with their budgets cut already, the offer of cold hard cash to ignore all of that and do what they are told may seem irresistible.

And so, like so many governments past, power being devolved has seemingly hit its limits again.

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