The IPPR released a paper at the end of last week saying that plans to decentralise public service delivery should be combined with minimum guarantees of what they should provide. Equality, Entitlements and Localism was written by a member of staff seconded from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and he interestingly suggests:
“Failure to meet these legal requirements will potentially leave public authorities open to legal challenge via judicial review proceedings and/or enforcement action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”
It's almost as if the EHRC see an opportunity for themselves to operate as a 'localist regulator' of sorts. This, of course, is normal behaviour for bureaucratic organisations. In good times, they engage in mission-creep to gain more funding and staff to expand their fiefdom. In leaner times such as these, it's often an attempt to highlight how 'important' they are, and show why they should not be scrapped or cut back.
Would genuine localism involve this sort of bureaucratic layer? It sounds like a case of "localism's fine, as long as you're localist how we want you to be". Indeed, the author mentions NHS Foundation Trusts as an example of previous flirtations with localism. What isn't mentioned is that Foundation Trusts tend to dance to the tune provided by the Strategic Health Authority - yes, you've guessed it, a bureaucratic middle-man.
A counter to the IPPR's argument was released today by the New Local Government Network. Their report Making Sense of Entitlement argues that:
"the use of entitlements and guarantees to citizens replicates many of the problems of traditional performance targets and restricts the ability of services to focus on the needs of their local communities."
They say that provided citizens have the safeguards of transparency, scrutiny and accountability then services can be tailored locally without central targets guarantees. A more genuine localist argument, for sure.