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Jessica Studdert - One Nation Social Justice and the New Redistribution

Jessica Studdert - One Nation Social Justice and the New Redistribution

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Published by onenationregister
Jessica Studdert argues that redistribution not only matters on the income scale, but also between the local and centre; with social justice and localism being interdependent.
Jessica Studdert argues that redistribution not only matters on the income scale, but also between the local and centre; with social justice and localism being interdependent.

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Published by: onenationregister on Mar 26, 2013
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03/26/2013

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 One nation and the new redistribution: from the centre to the localJessica Studdert
One nation promises to set out how we can better share rewards, create astake for everyone and give people more control over their lives. To realisesuch a vision requires a radical approach that fundamentally alters the powerstructures in our country and redistribute it from the central to the local level.As Jon Wilson also writes in this issue of the Register, almost by definition acentre-led, uniform approach will be inadequate to the complex andinterwoven economic, social and political challenges which play out differentlyin different areas. There is a growing stock of evidence that social justice andlocalism are interdependent - the former cannot be achieved without anapproach that relies on the latter. Rebuilding one nation starts from theground up.The prolonged recession has had an uneven impact across the country in areaswith varying economic histories, sectors and capacities. Giving local areas morepower to kick-start their economies can maximise their potential for recovery -through tailored local infrastructure investment, better matching skillsprovision to local labour market needs and targeting support at those whoneed it most
 –
both businesses and jobseekers. For example research has shown devolving skills provision and work programmes has the potential toreduce youth unemployment by 20 per cent, achieve savings of £1.25 billion ayear and contribute an extra £15 billion to the economy over ten years.Passing more decision-making power to local government can create a moreeffective, responsive state. Already the most efficient part of the public sector,
local authorities who know their communities’ needs are better placed to
know what works. Getting better outcomes for money spent requires not justlocal understanding but an actual local stake in getting it right
 –
which a town
 
hall possesses more than the desk of a distant Whitehall bureaucrat. Groups
that civil servants call “hard to reach” are not so for councils –
they are justdown the road. Allowing local areas the flexibility to address their prioritiesfrom their particular starting point has a much greater potential to achievebetter outcomes and fairness overall. The fairness commissions beingpioneered by many Labour councils are demonstrating the benefits of this: inIslington for example the council is prioritising action on breaking the cycle of poverty, community safety and promoting a London Living Wage across theborough, having implemented it for employees.There is evidence that local decision-making has greater legitimacy: in 2012public approval ratings showed satisfaction with local government at 71 percent, contrasting with just 24 per cent for central government, a split whichhas been consistent over recent years. In a climate of increasing mistrust of elites and traditional institutions, devolving more power locally can help createa more healthy democracy in which decisions are taken closer to the peoplethey affect. Low turnouts are often cited as evidence of lack of engagementwith local government, but this is symptomatic of a top-down political culture.The centralist bias of the British state not only hampers social justice but alsothe ability to re-engage people in democratic politics.The gravity of the task ahead requires not tinkering around the edges but afundamental power shift from the centre to local areas: Whitehall needs notonly to let go but to redistribute power and resources locally. The situation inwhich localities must prioritise fulfilling the objectives of the centre andcomplex socio-economic problems are approached from the logic of departmental silos needs to be turned on its head. In order to create truelocalism which makes our economy, state and democracy work for, not againstthe people, a set of radical reforms are required.Firstly, the autonomy of local government needs to be codified. The UK isunique in Western countries in having no legislative standing or protection forlocal government, which in theory could be abolished by an act of Parliament.Enshrining councils as independent and sovereign entities would ensure theyare accountable to their electorate, not vulnerable to the whims of micromanagers at the centre. This new status would enable a partnership of equals between Whitehall and local government, with national agencies forced
 
to respond to local priorities rather than the other way around. All new
legislation could be subject to a ‘presumption in favour’ of localism in which
decision-making about public services is passed to the lowest level practicable,closer to those who use them. Codifying this in law would mark a decisivebreak with the past; one that makes a statement.Secondly, rebalancing the power relationship between central and localgovernment needs to be matched by greater financial security andindependence for local areas.
As Labour’s zero
-based budget review considerspublic spending in the round, a key aspect of this should be the overall central-local balance. An independent commission on local government finance, withterms of reference agreed by local and central government, could considerboth the balance of funding based on overall tax take and specifically optionsfor local areas retaining a higher proportion of business rates they raise, whilstensuring appropriate equalisation. It would also need to consider options forlocal revenue-raising: allowing councils to borrow in line with prudential rulesand issue bonds, a reformed and more equitable council tax and otherpotential sources such as land value, tourism and green taxes could allcontribute to local areas becoming more self-sufficient with a stronger linkbetween money that is raised and spent locally.Finally, an assessment of overall public spending should consider the potentialfor radical reform to pool funding across public agencies to allow localgovernment to collaboratively design services that meet their communities
needs. Place-based budgeting was introduced by the Labour Government, ithas never moved beyond pilot stage under the Tory-led government, and nowrequires political determination to become mainstream. Huge funding streamsfrom Whitehall departments could be more effectively spent by giving localareas greater freedoms to provide services organised around needs and with agreater focus on prevention. It would enable collaborative leadership of placefor the common good, moving beyond the situation in which isolatedinstitutions work in parallel and sometimes in opposition. Analysis has shown that nationally place-based budgeting can deliver savings up to £4 billion a yearor £10.3 - £22.5 billion over five years: at a time when public services arecreaking under the strain of cuts and rising demand, this potential cannot beignored.

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