• All politics is local: strengthening communities, transforming people's lives [PDF]
  • By Rt Hon Gisela Stuart and Hugh Carveth
  • July 2018
  • Published by the Legatum Institute

 Executive Summary

Good governance, which we believe is essential to the prosperity of the country, and the growing desire of our citizens, requires power and decisions to be made at the right level, from national to local, to communities and families. The United Kingdom is undergoing profound constitutional changes, not least due to our decision to leave the European Union, so we believe that now is the right time to look at where decisions are made and what is the underlying basis for such a settlement.

The UK has become one of the most centralised states in the developed world

The UK government, like many others, responded to the challenges and dramatic changes in society that arose from the industrial revolution, urbanisation, and the introduction of the welfare state by centralising power. This had the unanticipated effect of removing power from individuals, communities, civil society institutions, and local authorities, with damaging long-term consequences. The UK has become one of the most centralised states in the developed world, with less than 5% of overall government tax revenue raised locally. Local authorities are now effectively more accountable to central government than to the people and communities they serve.

Government has become a huge, unwieldy conglomerate

There is now arguably a greater mismatch than ever between the many responsibilities of governments and their ability to meet them. Government has become a huge, unwieldy conglomerate, with a diverse range of functions that nobody can manage. 23 Cabinet ministers and their senior civil servants are accountable for so much that they now have impossible jobs.

Diminished role for local government

Although the last two decades have seen forms of devolution, most recently local mayors, these changes in structure have not had sufficient impact for people, nor have they simplified the job of central government. In fact, local government in the UK has seen its powers drastically reduced, and has increasingly become a delivery arm of national policy, relying heavily on central funding. It has very little autonomy or tax raising powers to serve the specific needs of local communities.

Poor outcomes—especially for the poorest in society

There is little evidence to suggest that this long-term centralising trend has made government programmes more effective, or more responsive to the needs and priorities of the people they serve. National services are facing serious problems, and public sector productivity has increased only 1.2% over the last 20 years. Poor outcomes result from this system of governance, and vulnerable members of society suffer most. 

Read the report here.

Read our companion paper: History of UK Devolution and Local Government