Localism needs local comms to thrive

Former council leader, now Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles

There are many things those of us who live outside London should welcome about the Localism Bill, published today by the Government.

Who could argue with moves to involve people more closely in running their communities, reduce red tape and devolve power (and responsibility) to grass-roots level?

There were two things about today’s announcement that struck me in particular.

1. There were few surprises: this had been an extremely well trailed package, with plenty of elements announced weeks in advance by Ministers, and Eric Pickles undertaking a round of media interviews yesterday to sell his vision.

As a result, the majority of the bill’s ingredients were already known and there was little ‘new’ that today’s announcement could add. This is not unusual, but it highlights an interesting discussion about the changing role of ‘big announcements’ when so much of the detail has already been unveiled.

2. Good communication is more important than ever: much of the bill needs good communication and strong community engagement to be effective. Glance at the detail and this is obvious: from giving people the right to run their own services and approve local developments through the Community Right to Build, to electing powerful mayors, calling referendums and even setting their own council tax, communications will play a critical role in ensuring people are well-informed about proposals and have the opportunity to shape them. At a time when resources are being reduced by local councils, delivering in this area will not be easy. Other partners will have to play a part in supporting local comms efforts (developers can play a role here, for example).

But those who do step up have a great opportunity to make a difference in shaping their communities for the better.

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