The Smith Commission’s recommendations towards ‘devo-max’ for Scotland have dragged the question of English devolution out of Whitehall’s cupboard of forgotten political options and thrust it blinking into the political spotlight. English local authorities have seized this opportunity to lobby Parliament to move beyond the Westminster-centric debate of ‘English votes for English laws’ and decentralise key powers and funding streams to local authorities.
In 2011, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, promised a public service revolution built around the principles of “localism”. However, local government academics, Jones and Stewart, found that the subsequent 2011 Localism Act contained multiple centralising powers, particularly in respect to finance. By 2013 the English local government funding system was declared to be “broken” and in need of fundamental overhaul. So what are the prospects for the current localist movement to reach beyond technical reforms to overturn the existing pattern of central-local relations? Are there now favourable conditions for a ‘localism revolution’?