'Localism' is doomed unless Whitehall can change

November 10, 2011, Economic & Social Research Council

The Government's commitment to 'localism' is likely to fail unless Whitehall departments can shed a deep-rooted culture of centralism, a new study suggests.

The Regional Funding Allocations (RFAs) were introduced to enable English regions to have more control over spending decisions and to co-ordinate key policies better. The scheme failed to deliver the flexibility regional economies need to become more competitive the evidence, based on research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) at Bristol University, shows. However, the experience of RFAs can help Government understand the barriers to the current 'localism' agenda.

The research team, led by Dr Sarah Ayres, conducted interviews with senior Whitehall officials in which they found a growing awareness of the need to boost the of England's economically weaker regions and to improve services through and empowerment.Whitehall officials viewed the first round of RFAs in 2006 as generally positive - in particular, the main beneficiary had been the Department for Transport and transport policy. But the researchers said RFAs were 'tinkering at the edges' rather than achieving a major transfer of funds or power.

They also found that central Government departments were not in agreement about which functions should be handed to regional bodies. Local disputes between regional bodies continued to weaken the confidence of Whitehall officials during this process. Many regional officials outside London felt there was still too much central control.

Most respondents agreed that Labour's tentative step towards establishing regional budgets had failed to deliver the discretion and flexibility required to develop policies at a local level. However, budget allocations were a powerful way to motivate different regional bodies to work more closely together.

The stopped the regional level of control after coming to power in May last year, saying bodies such as Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices lacked legitimacy. Nonetheless, the Coalition has acknowledged a need for greater local control over budgets as a means of achieving economic growth and more effective use of resources.

Respondents to the research, both at national and at regional level, agreed there was a longstanding culture of centralism in Whitehall which would be hard to overcome. "Given this, it remained to be seen whether the Coalition's plans to empower local areas would be realised", said Dr Ayres, who is based at the University of Bristol's School for Policy Studies.

"Given the severity of the economic challenges facing the UK, a more robust approach to promoting sustainable economic development and managing England's territories will need to be found. At the best of times Whitehall is reluctant to relinquish control, and at a time of financial crisis departments are likely to become even more risk-averse. This has the potential to hamper efforts towards localism", she said.

Explore further: South-East universities turn their knowledge into wealth

Related Stories

South-East universities turn their knowledge into wealth

September 7, 2011

In these tough economic times, universities are under pressure to use their knowledge and discoveries to drive economic growth, but an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) study reveals that not all universities are ...

Flying the flag: Does it matter?

May 9, 2011

Flying the EU flag on public buildings on Europe Day (Monday, 9th May) has no impact on public attitudes to the EU.

Could economics solve the prison crisis?

September 24, 2010

Prison numbers in England and Wales have risen sharply in the last decade, and are set to rise further. A study out today in the Probation Journal published by SAGE suggests that economists have a unique opportunity to help ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists find ancient necropolis in Egypt

February 24, 2018

Egypt's Antiquities Ministry announced on Saturday the discovery of an ancient necropolis near the Nile Valley city of Minya, south of Cairo, the latest discovery in an area known to house ancient catacombs from the Pharaonic ...

A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 11, 2011
Sir Humphrey would pooh pooh this type of foolishness - the thin edge of the wedge - cannot afford for local concerns or people close to the challenges to have this power - just crazy!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.