There is, however, a flaw in the delivery of localism. It stands to reason that if as much as possible is decided on a local basis, the funding for those projects should, by and large, then be raised locally. There will always be a need for direct government grants for big infrastructure projects and social security benefits, but in theory, local people should pay for everything else.
But no political party will ever say that, because the cost would be enormous. Remember why the poll tax failed? One reason was that the bills were just too huge and people regarded them as unfair. At the moment, council tax raises less than a quarter of all local government spending. It would be a brave political party which proposed to increase it. The LibDems want a local income tax,
The Conservative proposals today on giving local people more power are, in general, to be welcomed. They are...
* Abolishing all regional planning and housing powers exercised by regional government, returning powers and discretion back to local communities
* Allowing councils to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to take over the economic development functions and funding of the Regional Development Agencies
* Giving local authorities a new discretionary power to levy business rate discounts, allowing them to help local shops and services, such as rural pubs or post offices
* Provide citizens in all large cities with the opportunity to choose whether to have an elected mayor, through mayoral referendums
* Greater use of direct democracy, including allowing residents to veto high council tax rises, and instigating local referendums on local issues
* Requiring councils to publish detailed information online on expenditure by local councils – including the pay and perks of senior staff, and issuing new guidance to stop ‘rewards for failure’ to sacked town hall staff.
I think even many LibDems and Labour supporters could see the merit in a lot of that. However, the deep irony is that although they all have the theme of returning power to the people, on the finance side, nothing changes. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the Tory plans to freeze council tax are evidence of more centralising. In effect they stop local councils from doing what they might want to do.
Perhaps it's a circle which can never be squared until there is a wholesale reform of local government finance. But I can't see that happening even in the medium term. All political parties have filed it in the 'Too Difficult' tray.
*UPDATE: Tom in the comments corrects me with a quote from Nick Clegg
My ambition is to switch from a regime where councils raise just a quarter of the money they spend, and get the rest in handouts from the centre. To a regime where they get a grant for just a quarter of the money they spend – and get the rest from local taxes, decided by local people.While I very much agree with the sentiments, it's an easy thing to say when you lead a party which will never have to find a way of implementing such an aspiration.