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Community Empowerment

Ideas on localism and the associated benefits to society

A discussion paper presented by L. Harvey of Abrigo Publications © 2010 (CC: BY-NC-SA)

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In recent decades I would argue that there has been a steady decline in what you could call a Community
Spirit. This, I believe, has resulted in British society becoming more dependent on the State and also
causing decreased spiritual well-being of our population.

It is my belief that humans are happiest when they are an active part of a strong community. It is my
belief that if people feel like they own their local area then they are less likely to deface it and more likely
to defend it. This paper discusses my ideas on localism and how I believe they can be implemented into
today's society.

This document is not an in-depth research paper and is presented solely to provoke discussion. I have
tried to present evidence for the thinking behind my ideas and I hope that this provides some food for

A quick word on the copyright of this document

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Section Page

Introduction 2

Contents 3

1. How Local is Local?

1.1 Current Situation 4
1.2 Proposed Changes 5
1.3 Definitions and a Real World Example 6

2. Citizens, their Communities and their Spiritual Well-being

2.1 Human Psychology 7
2.2 Medieval England 8
2.3 Tribal Life 9
2.4 The Current Situation in the United Kingdom 9
2.5 The Future 10

3. Turning Theory into Practice

3.1 Turning Scepticism into Optimism 11
3.2 Increasing a Sense of Influence Over Decision Making 11
3.3 Increasing a Feeling of Ownership 11
3.4 Tackling Dependence on Government 12
3.5 Increasing Social Responsibility 12
3.6 Delegation and a Role for Employers 13

4. References 14

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1. How Local is Local?

1.1. Current Situation

The current situation has been changing over a very long period. Northern Ireland, Scotland and
Wales now all have their own devolved governments, albeit with varying powers and

Only England remains without any devolved autonomy whatsoever. This in itself raises the
problem of non-English MPs being able to vote on matters that only apply to England.
Furthermore, non-English MPs are not able to vote on matters devolved to their own devolved
administration. This unintended consequence is often known as the “West Lothian Question”.[1.2

Figure 1.1 – Current UK Governmental Structure

Figure 1.1 shows the current Governmental structure of the UK. In Wales and Scotland,
Community Councils (CC's) already exist but suffer from a 'lack of respect' from the Unitary
Authorities (UA's).[1.3 – para 159]

In England, there are far fewer Parish Councils (PC's) than there used to be. I should clarify that
in this document, I am talking about civil parishes rather than ecclesiastical parishes.
Birmingham, for instance, has only one parish with the remainder of the city being unparished.

Various community discussion forums exist in different forms around the country, but all with
little publicity.

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1.2. Proposed Changes
Of course we need a central UK government to look after the defence of the kingdom. If only to
conduct foreign diplomacy and to coordinate the constituent nations. Strategic decisions for the
whole UK should also be made here. In my vision I see a much smaller central government based
upon a federal structure. This change in itself would represent a large shift from central
governance to more local decision making but my ideas do not stop there.

Each constituent nation of the Kingdom needs it's own governing body. This will be along the
lines of the Welsh assembly and Scottish Parliament. In particular, having an English Parliament
will free up time at Westminster for debate & scrutiny of the nations (something I am told is
sorely needed). The national parliament would probably end up housing the main legislative
system and would also be able to coordinate the efforts of county and borough councils. In this
way, resources can be focussed the most deprived counties and boroughs.

Below this level, the city, borough and county councils will, on the whole, remain. Although I do
believe it would be useful to continue merging county and district councils into unitary
authorities. However, this merging should not be forced through just because it looks neater on
paper! That said, in this document I will refer to county, city and borough councils as Unitary
Authorities purely for the sake of brevity.

Since the unitary authorities are no longer the next tier of democracy after central government
their work will change. The emphasis will be to become the main support givers to the
community. Providing legal or architectural advice for example. The authorities will also help
coordinate the communities where requested and organise work such as refuse collection. An
important new power would be to allow a local income tax to be levied which can then be used to
channel resources to the communities (especially the most deprived).

The lowest level of democracy would be the Community Council (CC) level. This is the key level
for getting more participation in local democracy. Though CC's already exist, I believe that their
establishment should be more actively encouraged and supported by the unitary authorities.
Legislation already exists to enable this process in the form of the “Local Government and Rating
Act 1997”.

The resultant architecture of the UK Government would therefore be as shown below:

Figure 1.2 – Proposed UK Governmental Structure

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It is tempting to keep creating level after level of government to serve different levels of
consolidated purpose. But it is important to note that four tiers of government (5 if including the
EU) is generally considered “a lot, even in a relatively rich country”.[1.1 pp142] Thus the number of
tiers should be kept to a minimum. In my proposed structure there are four tiers.

My proposals do not change much in the way of structure and the number of tiers are not
increased. In fact, the number of levels is decreased when county councils and borough councils
become unitary authorities.

There would be significant changes to the responsibilities and rights for each tier though. The
main structural difference would be to merge the 9 undemocratically imposed regions of England
into an English Parliament.

The total effects of my proposals would create a looser union between the Nations but I am not
advocating complete independence. I thoroughly believe that we are stronger if we work together.

1.3. Definitions and a Real World Example

The words 'local', 'community' and 'neighbourhood' can be rather abstract concepts with no real
definition so I would like to clarify my use of the terms in this document.

Some define a community as a group of people who need (but not necessarily depend on) each
other. I would like to define it as a village. Even in our towns and cities there is a certain
Knowledge among the people of that area as to what zone they live in. Usually this is based upon
the individual manors and villages that existed in that place prior to them being swallowed up by

For example, take Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC). In 2001 the borough was
home to over 305,155[1.4] people – which is far too many to be considered as a neighbourhood.
DMBC is (effectively) a unitary council with the main town being Dudley. However, there are
also other large towns in the borough, notably Halesowen and Stourbridge.

Taking Stourbridge as our example, this town itself had a population of 49,833[1.4] in 2001. Again,
too large to be classed as a single community. The town is split into 4 wards, each with around
12,458[1.4] people. This is better but the wards can cover multiple former manors/villages (Lye,
Oldswinford, Pedmore etc.).

By defining a community as, say, the people living in Pedmore, there is a distinct identity for
people to latch on to. The numbers making up that community will also be minimised and so I
feel that this is a good starting point for establishing Community Councils.

If a community was made up of people from an even smaller area (one or two streets) I don't think
they would have enough people or resources to actually do anything and there would be a risk of
one or two people dictating to everybody else on that street. So the village level seems sensible to

If a time comes when the Community Council grows strong enough to establish ad-hoc sub-teams
to deal with issues at the level of, say, a few streets surrounding a troublesome park then I see no
problem with this.

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2. Citizens, their Communities and their Spiritual Well-being

2.1. Human Psychology

For me, George Santayana said it best:
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is
absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible
improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is
perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[2.1]

This philosophy identifies that it is important to build on past experience. If we delve briefly into
the world of evolutionary psychology we discover Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Need. The
idea behind this hierarchy is that the bottom, most fundamental, layers of human nature need to be
fulfilled before moving to the next level. A reproduction of this pyramid is shown below.

Figure 2.1. Abraham Maslow's Pyramid of Need[2.2]

As in all cerebral matters there is debate and criticism of Maslow's theory. Most significant to this
document is the criticism relating to the prominence of self-actualisation (i.e. the desire to fulfil
your potential). The criticism is along the lines that the top layers of Maslow's pyramid are based
on experience in individualistic societies and do not take into account more collective societies.

This, among many other reasons, has led to Douglas Kenrick (et al) devising an updated pyramid
that I feel is more representative of human nature. Since it takes into account the more collective
society I would like to build I think it is also more relevant to this document. The simplified
diagram (figure 2.2 on the next page) demonstrates how the ultimate human goal of self-
actualisation has been replaced by a need to breed; just like any other animal. This is a premise
that sits comfortably with me.

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Figure 2.2. Douglas Kenrick's updated Pyramid of Need[2.3]

Despite the differences of opinion on what exactly is the ultimate goal of humanity we can see
that the bottom four levels of both pyramids are quite similar. This, to me, suggests that these
foundation layers are less disputed.

The affiliation layer is most significant to this document. You can not have affiliation without a
community to feel affiliated to. It seems to me that throughout history the biggest reason to
affiliate with someone was to enhance your own safety and well-being.

2.2. Medieval England[2.4]

In medieval England, there was a very strong sense of community. This was necessary because
with the threat of attack from invading hordes and with travel not being an easy undertaking a
city, town or village needed to be as self reliant as possible. Every person needed to know that
every other person in their community would come to their aid in an emergency.

Thus any criminal or immoral activity was usually dealt with swiftly and strictly to deter a
breakdown in community cohesion. It was seen, for all but the most serious crimes, as the
responsibility of the community to police and punish itself.

If we apply Kenrick's pyramid to the medieval English society we can see why, despite the horrors
of living at that time (plague, famine etc.) people, across the social classes, could still be happy.
There is evidence that they sang, played games and told stories. These are not high priorities if
you are fighting for your life so the tiers of the pyramid must have been fulfilled to reach this

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2.3. Tribal Life
Moving to the modern day I believe we can study remote tribes to gain a better understanding of
human nature. The BBC documentary “Tribal Wives” was, for me, a good example of how
important a community is for spiritual well-being.

In the documentary, a woman from the UK (not necessarily married, but usually feeling
unfulfilled with their life) was placed in a remote tribe somewhere in the world. The tribes, their
location in the world and the women varied episode to episode but the impact on the women was
marked and consistent even after just a month of being part of that tribe.

The tribes must have been specially selected but nevertheless the programme appeared to show
the tribes adopting the newcomer and fully accepting them into their community. The newcomer
was encouraged to contribute and in return the community looked after her. All of the women
seemed impressed by the sense of belonging that they had and were surprised at how sad they
were to leave after building such strong bonds.

Again I would argue that the tribe is held together by the need to survive; being stronger as a team
rather than existing purely as individuals. Each person in the tribe had a job that would benefit the
rest of the tribe and so again you have unquestioned inter-reliance.

2.4. The Current Situation in the United Kingdom

In the modern UK there is no direct action that an individual is obligated to do in order to support
their community. For example, I do not need to take a water butt to a local spring and fill it so that
my neighbours can have something to drink. There are plenty of indirect actions though such as
paying taxes and abiding by laws but these do not have the same effect on spiritual well-being.

I believe that this disconnection between living in and contributing towards a community has
resulted in people not feeling affiliated with their community and so they are having to find other
ways of fulfilling that basic human need.

It could be argued that the effect of this lack of community affiliation is being demonstrated by
the rise in gangs of youths loitering, causing trouble and just generally being bored and hormonal.

Self-imposed racial or religious segregation is, in my opinion, also a by-product of this lack of
community affiliation. If people do not have a community to integrate with then they are driven to
find a sense of belonging along other lines. If, for instance, that sense of belonging is primarily
centred around skin colour then surely the natural outcome is an increase in racism between

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2.5. The Future
Without proper communities that enfranchise and affiliate all those who live within that local area
I believe our spiritual well-being will continue to degrade and, with it, the top tiers of either
Maslow's or Kenrick's pyramids will become unachievable. By withdrawing or restricting the
lower tiers of the pyramid (in this case the need for affiliation), the top tiers and the best
achievements of humanity are tainted and so not to the best of our ability as a species.

Take, for example, a fascist state that has recently swept to power. Instead of people working
together to improve the area(s) in which they live and work for the good of everybody, their
efforts are tainted by their affiliation with a fascist regime. Thus causing those same efforts to
discriminate and harm certain parts of the very same community.

While I am not saying that a fascist state is the ultimate outcome of poor affiliations, I am saying
that spiritual unhappiness and the associated lack of optimism in the abilities of mankind are. So
what can we do to change this?

My premise is that in communities where members have direct responsibility to the other
members, people are happier and the community can prosper. In the past, the interpersonal bonds
were founded by a need to provide the basic physiological and safety needs of that community. In
the modern world, these can (for the medium term at least) be taken for granted and so a new
foundation for community bonding needs to be discovered.

I would like to propose giving the community a feeling of ownership of their community. At
present, some distant person decides what is going to happen in a particular area and uses the
distantly collected taxes to pay for it.

(As a quick aside, it is true to say that theoretically everyone gets a say on what goes on in
their community but with only 15% of the local electorate participating in local
government, the vast majority will see their governance as something that happens to
them, not for them.)

I believe that this is the wrong way round. It should be the community deciding what is needed
and the community paying for it to be done. This would, of course, require a lot of changes,
though not necessarily big changes. These are discussed in more detail in sections 1 and 3.

By giving power to the people, by rearranging the governmental structure to support the work of
local communities and by giving members of the community a financial stake in their community,
I believe that communities will prosper, so benefiting the country as a whole.

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3. Turning Theory into Practice
Coming up with ideas and ranting about them is easy. While a person may agree with the general
principles behind my ideas they would probably have a problem with some of the practicalities. In this
section I attempt to address some of the concerns and challenges of putting theory into practice.

A whole other discussion paper could be written (and they probably have been written) on how to
improve localism, so I would ask that my proposals should only be seen as a brief foray into that

3.1 Turning Scepticism into Optimism

The first obstacle to change will be the natural human trait of rejecting that which is new.
Breaking the habit of scepticism and apathy can only be achieved by showing to people exactly
what it is that can be done and what tools are available to them.

A minority of people, suitably encouraged (and gently pestered) by their local council, will come
forward to found community councils. When these community councils start delivering results
and publicising them, more people would be likely to join the bandwagon. Word of mouth would
spread and eventually most local people would feel empowered and would know that if they
wanted to change something then they could try and would be supported in doing so.

3.2 Increasing a Sense of Influence Over Decision Making

Communication and involvement are, again, key. All levels of government will need to
communicate with the people and encourage their input.

Consultations, local referenda etc. would go a long way to improve a feeling of influence. As
would having elected representatives being truly accountable to their electors. While this is
theoretically possible at present, it is not the perception within parliamentary safe-seats. Therefore
these safe-seats need to be abolished and this would be better achieved by a more proportional
voting system.

In the longer term, with people being encouraged to take up local projects or initiatives (and this
being publicised) more people will be encouraged to come forward and make a difference.

3.3 Increasing a Feeling of Ownership

If people feel like they own their area, then it seems to me that they are less likely to deface it and
more likely to protect it. In the past this feeling was created through a need to survive via
interdependence. For instance, if you smashed up the village well then you, along with your
fellow villagers could die of dehydration.

This is not so obvious in modern times; we do not feel like we need each other to go about
surviving in the modern world. People can shirk their responsibilities but life will go on. So a new
method needs to be found to make people feel like it is their community.

One way to do this could be to encourage local communities to voluntarily pay, themselves, for
improvements to be made to a local area. Another way is to have the community carrying out the
work. Work such as painting lampposts and fences, gardening, street cleaning etc.

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3.4 Tackling Dependence on Government
Of course, the counter argument to all this is to say “that's what I pay my council tax for”.

Well, why should it be that way? Why should a persons commitment to their community be purely
financial? I do not believe that this is a good state of affairs in terms of the spiritual well-being of
human beings or for community cohesion. Therefore, more direct cooperation and activity
between members of a community is vital.

However, this should not be done as an addition to the current set-up. This would, in fact, involve
a very different method of how the state works and is paid for.

Firstly, I would get rid of the Council Tax which is based upon the (alleged) value of the home
somebody lives in. The payment for the services of the new Unitary Authorities would be more
fairly appropriated directly from a persons pay packet. I'm thinking of a local income tax. Ideally,
I would like to see this income distributed between the Unitary Authority and Community Council
for where a person's (main) residence is. Perhaps in the ratio of 2:1 (UA to CC).

3.5 Increasing Social Responsibility

Secondly and as discussed in section 1.2, the role of the Unitary Authority would need to be
changed from a governing role to an advisory and supportive role. I would still suggest that they
would need to create their own strategic (economic and social) plan for their area and look after
day-to-day things like refuse collection and highway maintenance but their main effort should be
in supporting the Community Councils.

This support would be in terms of providing professional services such as architects, lawyers,
financial advisers etc. to the community councils. Some funding could take place for strategic
schemes envisioned by the UA's but otherwise the Community Councils would be funded only by
their share of the local income tax and any fund-raising operations.

It would be the Community Councils that led the majority of local action. Action such as
gardening/landscaping, building new parks or deciding where to build new social housing. I also
see a role for CC's in helping the less well off to achieve as much as they want to achieve.

An example that springs to mind is a charity fund that will pay for activity days out for the poorest
children so as to give them experience of other areas and, to some extent, broaden their horizons.
This isn't an ideal example, but it illustrates my point about charitable causes being important in a
civilised society.

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3.6 Delegation and a Role for Employers
The paradox is that if people were to take more action, they would see and feel results but without
having the feeling that their input would make a difference, they won't want to try to change

It would be unreasonable to expect people to immediately devote time to their community. That is
why delegation will be crucial in the short term. Electing a community council and taking part in
local referenda will aid a sense of empowerment even though they are not physically doing
anything. Over time I would hope that they feel encouraged to join in with the community work in
their own time, at weekends for instance.

In the longer term I would like to see employers encouraged to help their employees to take part
in community action. Perhaps by giving the employee a regular day off every so often (maybe
once or twice a month) to carry out voluntary work in their community. Since businesses are
unlikely to do this of their own accord then I see no problem with one of the tiers of government
providing funding to the companies to limit their losses.

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4. References

[1.1] – Local Governance in Industrial Countries, Anwar Shah et al, World Bank 2009
[1.2] – The West Lothian Question, Oonagh Gay and Helen Holden , House of Commons Library, 2010,
Standard Note: SN/PC/02586
[1.3] - The Macintosh Report on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament, date unknown, Scottish
[1.4] – UK Census, Office for National Statistics, 2001

[2.1] – Life of Reason, Volume 1 'Reason in Common Sense', Chapter 12, George Santayana, 1905-06
[2.2] – Figure based on the corresponding Wikipedia article.
[2.3] – A simplified version of a figure adapted from an article which is copyright of Miller-McCune
[2.4] – The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer, The Bodley Head, 2008

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