Engaging London's Communities: the Big Society and Localism

  • By London Councils

Engaging London’s Communities – The Big Society and Localism is a report published by the City of London and London Councils and written by Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Big Society and localism: origins and challenges for London

The government has embarked on two major policy reforms during its first year of office which may have profound implications for local government. The first of these is the Big Society and the second is ‘localism’. These are closely-linked initiatives because, by delivering them, ministers wish to see a radical shift of power away from official institutions towards communities, social enterprise and voluntary effort. 

The government’s Big Society and localism policies are not fully-evolved reforms to be imposed on communities. Enabling legislation will allow people and organisations within local areas to decide whether and how to work together to take over or influence services. The practical application of these concepts will evolve but the pace and scale is inherently uncertain.

There will need to be a partnership between the public sector and community/voluntary organisations if the Big Society is to flourish. London boroughs and other councils, who are expected to be major commissioners of services from charities, social enterprises and other non-governmental organisations, will need to promote such organisations.

Risks are associated with the two policies, especially the failure of services, lack of accountability, and insufficient clarity about outcomes to be delivered. Handing over local services provision to a range of possibly smaller and less experienced organisations necessarily requires careful judgement. 

The project considers existing official attitudes to urban parishes and other analogous institutions. It also examines the possibility, drawing on the basis of Business Improvement Districts, to evolve new kinds of ‘community improvement district’ to allow a more structured approach to the Big Society and localism-type policies.