Lib Dems should fight for localism

The last three years have been difficult ones for Lib Dems. We have taken the rap for things that would have had to be done whoever formed the Government; we have had to put up with some rubbish from the Tories because we are in a coalition although we have moderated much more; and we have done lots of good things such as the triple lock on pensions and the raising of the level at which income tax is paid.

Two things have surprised me when I have been campaigning:

1. We have been too timid in defending what needed to be done or promoting the good things we have achieved. We have allowed Labour to dominate the agenda with their downright lies or evasions. Just think Millibubble this week on VAT and borrowing.

2. We have not, as Councillors and local campaigners, used the tools that a Government has provided to deliver the localism that has always been a key part of our culture.

Elsewhere I have remarked that today is the end of my first 30 years as a councillor. For most of that time I yearned for the ability to take power from the government and give it to councils. Just as much I yearned for the ability to take power from the Town Hall and give it to local communities. Then my request was answered in the form of the Localism Act 2011; an Act which takes power and returns it to local people – if they know about it! I know that we can always say that the Government is duplicitous. Yes I know that they have taken power away with their foolish ideas for free schools and academies but the Localism Act gives us some real tools for community empowerment and hardly any Lib Dem has used them.

Well in Liverpool we are on the case! Last week we assisted 3 new community groups to submit to the council the forms to establish a Neighbourhood Planning Forum in Church, Allerton and Mossley Hill Wards. Three more Fora are in the process of development. Not only are these fora looking at planning matters but also looking at the development of community asset registers. They are already talking about the possibility of taking over some services or working with providers to develop local service delivery plans.

It is no coincidence that these activities are taking place in Wards where there is a strong Lib Dem influence. Traditionally Labour and Tory Parties loathe the idea of community control. Yes they want more power from the Government but give their power away, ” well ordinary people just would not know how to use it would they!”

Having been at all three launch events I have been delighted at how local people really are beginning to understand what the system is preventing them from doing. Clearly the process is being helped by the intransigent behaviour of Labour in Liverpool. They will not listen to very reasonable requests from communities. Indeed the Mayor screams at them in the Council chamber that he “will not listen to them because they are NIMBYs”.

Well this is one decision that is out of his hands. The law has empowered communities. They can have much more say in deciding what their neighbourhood looks and feels like and what assets the community needs to function. Who knows some of them are even thinking of establishing urban town councils.

Tomorrow I hope that lots of tiggerish new Lib Dem Councillors will be elected. I hope that some of the older hands will help them wise up to the Localism Act and help them implement it. It’s what we have called community politics since 1970 and what I intend to try and deliver for my next 30 years as a Councillor!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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