The theme for this year’s CLES summit (full disclosure: I am a board member at CLES – the Centre for Local Economic Strategies in Manchester) was Localism – picking up on a very current trend from localism act over local enterprise partnerships to city deals and the wider debate on Big Society. In his introductory remarks for the summit CEO Neil McInroy advocated for a localism that helps real people – a result-oriented focus rather than a process perspective. As Neil said, this localism would be charactereised by being progressive, sustainable and just.
There are some obstacles to getting to this point and as one of the next speakers, Simon Parker, argued wicked problems such as climate change are a massive barrier to localism as they with their imminence usurup the agenda and introduce centralist conform norms which drive these high prority issues. The leader of Rochdale, Colin Lambert, raised a a point about how the collective should control the development and delivery of public services which led to an interesting debate about whether this is not what we are already asking politicians to do through elected representatives.
For me Chris Murray from Core Cities neatly summed up what the localism conundrum is about by defining it as the clear demarcation between the national and the local – thus giving localism a strong framework to position itself against. The nation-state is still the strongest framework for policymaking but maybe the new focus on localism is a way of addressing how we best solve society issues at the appropriate level – personally I think this is the key question for unlocking the localism conundrum.