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Power to the people

"For too long, central government has hoarded and concentrated power. Trying to improve people’s lives by imposing decisions, setting targets and demanding inspections from Whitehall simply doesn’t work. It creates bureaucracy. It leaves no room for adaptation to reflect local circumstances or innovation to deliver services more effectively and at lower cost. And it leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon - the very opposite of the sense of participation and involvement on which a healthy democracy thrives. "

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, launching the Localism Act

Aware that the top down model of government tends to create a democratic deficit, the Government introduced the Localism Act in 2011. Since then it has been possible for those at the bottom of the power hierarchy to challenge 'orders from above' and to make a case for the the fulfiment of their own aspirations. The need for such a countervailing mechanism is obvious. As you move up from the electorate, each layer of government becomes more remote from the reality of the lives of the people they govern. Take a look at the simplistic and admittedly crude chart below to see local government in perspective.

Ringwood Town Council is the first level of government above the people. Its role has to be to represent and to champion the interests of Ringwood. Why? Because the next level up, the New Forest District council, is responsible for a total of some 37 town councils, all of which are competing for the district council's attention and money. It is not the role of a district council to know the particuler needs and aspirations of every one of its towns. That is the role of the town council.

Before the Localism Act, the town councils had little power. But the Localism Act (and one of its offspring, the Neighbourhood Plan process) set out to adjust this imbalance.. Of course district councils, with their wider responsibilities, retain power over district wide issues. But now town councils, with their intimate knowledge of their own town, can listen to the people of the town and fight their corner. The Localism Act was a bold, innovative intiative designed to revitalise the faltering concept of democracy by giving more of a say to the people. It presented an exhilirating opportunity. Town councils that seize the opportunity really can make a difference.

Underlying the Localism Act is the concept of Subsidiarity, the principle that power should be devolved to the lowest level possible of the power structure. This means that issues that are essentially of concern within a town and that do not directly affect those outside the town should be dealt with by the town council which should of course ensure they are fully aware of the needs and aspirations of the townspeople who elect them.


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