Local regionalism

Local solutions for outsiders?The Minister for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has given the go-ahead for 250,000 tonnes of nuclear waste to be dumped in the UK.  Specifically, the old landfill site is in Northants, where a local referendum returned a 96% vote against being the result.

This situation is splitting opinion, in particular regarding two different elements of it.

To start with, It should come as no surprise at all that 96% of local residents voted against such a plan.  If you were to ask most people if they would like to have a nuclear dump close to their homes – and I have spoken to some of the people who live near the proposed site – they would probably say no, regardless of the actual details of the plans in question.  When presented with a simple yes or no, with an emotive issue and which most people don’t take the time to fully understand this is as surprising as the shock that FIFA is (allegedly) corrupt.

However, many of those same people often accept the overarching need for such a facility in general.  They would acknowledge that such waste needs to be disposed of safely somewhere, just not near them.  It is simple nimbyism – for those not familiar with the term, ‘Not In My Back Yard’.

This highlights an issue facing local government in this modern age of localism.  Such regional facilities will be required in the future – it is not practical that every town and village is entirely self sufficient in terms of energy creation, waste disposal and other public amenities.  It simply cannot be the case that each village, town or local authority can act in isolation, looking only within its artificially created boundaries and protecting the interests of its own.

We have seen local government working hard to bring shared services into the common vernacular, where simple services are shared across these boundaries because there are economies of scale to consider.  Rather than providing two smaller services doing the same thing, one larger one is shared which does just as good a job but costs each authority less (or so the theory goes).

In just the same way, certain services or facilities are needed on a regional rather than local level.  Someone, somewhere, will not be happy about it, but for the greater good, sometimes the few need to have their noses put a little out of joint.  This needs to be sensitively handled, with negative impact minimised and appropriate compensation offered (not just financial compensation either, by the way).  However, the tough decision is sometimes the right decision.

This brings us onto the second issue thrown up, that of the huge challenges facing true localism, and the willingness of the government to allow it to happen.  If Mr. Pickles was truly committed to localism and all it entailed then he would respect these referendum results and allow each area to run itself based on the views and wishes of those who live there.

In the long term this simply will not work.  As much as the mouths are saying “are you local”, the minds need to be thinking of the bigger picture.  Where possible local views should certainly be given significant weight, but occasionally this will not be possible and the bigger decisions will need to be made.  With the removal of much of the regional thinking and the focus on the micro we are in danger of losing the macro.

As much as I hate to say it, local government sometimes needs to not be local.

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6 Comments on “Local regionalism”

  1. Mark Stanley Says:

    This post draws out the problem neatly. Perhaps the simple answer is that looking after nuclear waste, like looking after prisoners – is not a local issue but a national one and so needs to be dealt with at a national level. It isn’t something the government should attempt to delegate to local authorities.

  2. sdcsmith2000 Says:

    To my mind this proves that the concept of localism is fundamentally flawed, it suggests that UK Gov gives Local Gov all of the responsibility but none of the power to act locally.
    I would also go on to add that this is a clear illustration that Pickles and this government are not serious about “localism” in anyway shape or form! Rather they have seen it as a mechanism to abdicate responsibility for the cutting back of services at the ground level and a cynical attempt to distance themselves from it the political fallout.
    Its all well and good for UK Gov to say, its local money for local people and its then local peoples responsibility to make decisions on how local people want spend it and so the local council will work the way local people want just as long as local people take responsibility, very worthy I am sure. But to then turn around and ride rough shod over the same local people who make a nigh on unanimous local decision to say no to a central government edict from on high smacks of utter arrogance in my humble opinion!. Meh, this government cares nothing for localism.

    • localgov Says:

      Interesting point of view, although I’m being careful to stay on the local government arguments rather than central government policy decisions or ethos!

      My point in this post is that we need to manage the expectations of localism and accept that some decisions cannot be taken locally. It was no use running a referendum like that when the decision making power was elsewhere; all it achieves is disengagement from politics and complaints about The Government.

      Some frank honesty and talking by those involved might have worked wonders.

  3. josephine Says:

    something similar happened a while back in my local council (KL and West Norfolk). we had a vote on whether or not we wanted a municipal waste mass burn incinerator. 94% said no, but Norfolk County Council are going ahead anyway cause Norwich (where it was initially planned) didn’t want it. seems that Local is only local when it suits the Councils. Grrr.

  4. […] discussed before the challenges that real localism faces, and how in some circumstances a wider view of an issue needs to be taken: in this bloggers […]

  5. […] Admittedly the Localism Bill intended to put real power back into the hands of local authorities, and to be fair it has started to do this.  There is still a long way to go, but it has set out a clear vision of a country where local authorities are trusted to get on with things and know what’s best for their local communities.  Sometimes we are even allowed to make local decisions (as long as they are the decisions which central government agree with). […]

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