Gove supports the vision of ‘community-driven’ devolution
The new communities secretary revealed more details about his vision for community-driven decentralization and asked councils to “surprise and delight” with their own decentralization proposals.
Michael Gove supported a decentralization model championed by a group of ten MPs that aims to empower residents to assume some responsibility in public services.
Mr Gove and Pensions and Financial Inclusion Minister Guy Opperman endorsed the proposals in the brochure Trusting the People – The Case of Community Conservatism at an event on the sidelines of the current Conservative Party conference. The report supports the ‘Wigan Deal’ for pioneering an approach working with residents to ‘take on more responsibility’ themselves, saving Wigan MBC £ 115million over ten years while l life expectancy was increasing and the housing tax remained low.
One of the proponents of the approach, Tory MP Jerome Mayhew, commented, “Doesn’t that make you think they’re on to something? Isn’t that something we should develop elsewhere? So we want to move away from central government leadership. But to whom? The simple answer would be local authorities, but that’s just another bunch of politicians. We therefore want a double devolution via local authorities to community groups. “
Referring to other initiatives such as ‘social prescribing, community control and place-based budgeting,’ Mr Mayhew suggested that ‘we are pulling all the resources from the different pots the government likes to use and say,’ ,, you decide where your community infrastructure should be ‘”.
Mr. Gove told the audience that “we are all excited about [the model] and others in government are incredibly enthusiastic about it ”. “If you look at the political thinkers who are tackling the big questions of the moment, they are all in this territory,” he added.
Other examples of community initiatives in Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle were greeted on stage. LGC asked Mr Gove what he thought of his defending ideas that some Labor figures might claim to be theirs.
He replied that “some of the initiatives, especially in the northeast, are the ones that the Conservatives were behind.”
“That’s not to say that there haven’t been Labor politicians … who haven’t been enthusiastically involved,” he continued. “But the bigger point is that there are things we have done and indeed other Labor advisers and other Labor figures in local government have done that we can learn from. No party has a monopoly on good people or good ideas. I could explain why I think that overall Labor’s record in local government leaves so much to be desired. But it’s just unrealistic to say that every Labor Council has done a bad job.
“Part of the reason we’re having a conversation about leveling right now is that people are saying ‘well, it’s the Tories moving to the left.’ And I think it is. The principle of equal opportunities and of wanting to bind the nation together is deeply conservative.
Somerset CC advisor Faye Purbrick (Con) told Mr Gove his board is “in a really enviable position that we now have a local government reorganization”, with a business case on “decentralizing the outlet decision making and this community element across Somerset “.
“What would be your advice for the best way to do it?” ” she asked.
In response, Mr Gove said there is “a natural tendency” for “anyone interacting with governments trying to guess what ministers or officials want – what is the correct answer, which will unlock ‘yes’.”
He added, “To a large extent what we really, really want is someone who can surprise and delight us. And say, ‘I knew you were very interested in having this unitary model or this model of a strong local leader. In Somerset we want to do things differently, and that’s exactly what we want to do and that’s what’s going to happen in Yeovil as a result. You haven’t seen anything yet, because of all these changes. can say “fantastic”.
“If it’s a guessing game, where we don’t know enough about Somerset – and I don’t know – and Somerset is trying to figure out what’s going on in the minds of ministers – and those minds, as brilliant be they, can’t do everything – then we will both fail. So I’m going to encourage you to talk about politics as a team, but also to be as imaginative as possible. “
Mr Gove spoke passionately about the issues some communities face, describing the empty buildings on the main streets as “the face of a beloved relative with missing teeth in their smile”.
He said there are “principles on how many services we should rely on should be within walking distance for most of us, and how they are not.”
“It creates a feeling of resistance to new developments,” he said.
The Trusting the People brochure promotes the concept of community banking, which was started by the city councils of Preston and Liverpool and Wirral MBC in the North West. Mr. Gove said that “the decline of mutuals and the remoteness of banking and financial services from the communities in which they grew up and where they were supposed to serve has created a very, very unfortunate situation for many.”
Mr. Opperman is already pioneering some of the brochure’s broader concepts in his finance and pensions portfolio by exploring environmental, social and governance (ESG) changes. He said: “For the first time, we are looking at the social impact of purchasing power, or the trillions of pensions that I control as minister of regulation, but also the finance sector of the government. City of London. I sincerely believe that if you look at a report like this and the ongoing ESG review, we can make some big changes. “
Mr Opperman enthusiastically spoke of the small fundraising funds set up in 2018 under the leadership of Rishi Sunak as Minister of Parks and Green Spaces, for which areas could bid to create or regenerate “pocket parks” . He described it as a “very cool idea” that it was “really quite easy” to bid on.
The minister who was leading it, if this idea was revived, “would really be someone you could suggest to and then push for local change,” he said. “It would be totally transformational, because the [disjunction] between the real things on the ground and the way you do things in the end is very difficult. “
Mr Gove described Mr Opperman’s points about pocket parks as “unbelievably valid”. “This small investment and this desire to reclaim a place that is a common space, where people can interact is absolutely essential,” he added.
Mr Gove warned of the dangers of a “Gogglebox approach” to culture, where it is “designed by Channel Four and consumed in a solitary way”.
He warned that “if people don’t feel they have control and ownership over [their cultural traditions], then it becomes again a factor of alienation ”.
“This is why the brochure is so powerful and the challenges it creates so great, because we cannot turn the tide overnight. But we can look in the brochure for some concrete examples of things that have made a difference, ”he added.
Although the Communities Secretary does not “want to roll back” Sky’s national sports broadcast, he has expressed concerns over the loss of community sports clubs. “It is not unfairly nostalgic to say that something has been lost in some of our communities,” he said.
Mr Gove recalled how during the Brexit debates in 2016 there was’ a feeling in which many people felt helpless – changes had taken place in their communities that they found uncomfortable, and this is particularly acute in deprivation areas… where there was none ”. t the concentration of financial capital, and also where social capital has no chance of growing ”.
“The common thread running through each of these areas, to use a phrase I have been accused of using too often in the past, is the desire of people to take back control. And I think that’s absolutely true.
The brochure argues that councils, in return for more power and funding, should have to accept “community commitments” for their regions. These should be modeled on “successful approaches such as the Wigan Accord” with guidance “committing to investing and sustaining community power” through “meaningful engagement” with residents.
Mr. Gove said that while the word “alliance” “sounds incredibly abstract”, “it does matter”.
“If you have a contractual relationship, it’s basically a quick and dirty relationship… a covenant relationship is a relationship that depends on a lasting set of promises and obligations and things that keep coming back”, a- he declared. “This is what we have to think about when we think about local democracy and what we have to think about not only the way we elect local leaders and their responsiveness, but also the range of institutions – we we move away from political leaders alone to a form of leadership. ”
While acknowledging that the government was “moving fairly slowly,” Opperman said he would “titillate” Mr. Gove with a “short-term solution” – to have a “tender minister” in the Leveling Department, housing and communities to “take charge on board of a budget that it will allocate, to provide seed capital to get these incredible projects [started], all of which are on display – from Wigan to Skelmersdale to Fleetwood to anywhere ”.
But he cautioned, “Believe me, it’s incredibly difficult to get these offers through and implement them. “