Policy Focus - Localism

Since the Coalition Government formed, you will have heard the words 'localism' and 'decentralisation' flying about. What do they mean and how will implementation of these policies affect the Jewish Community?

David Cameron describes his job as that of Chairman rather than CEO. This is illustrated in his wide ranging Localism Bill, which has just become law. The Act radically shifts power from central Government to communities – promoting local referenda, greater power for councils, transfer of council assets to community groups, and more elected mayors.

Some of these developments started under Gordon Brown, however the coalition has rapidly eschewed central control. It promotes the devolution of power to local or expert level; as seen in plans for Free Schools, elected Police Commissioners, more powerful local councils and GP commissioning. Similarly, inside Government, operational decisions are pushed down and out: away from the centre to Departments, away from cabinet to junior ministers, and from ministers to officials.

There are sound reasons for devolving policy-making, such as responsiveness to local democracy.  However, there are some policy areas where that becomes problematic, and diversity is one such. Less centralised Government has implications for the Jewish Community and other minorities, especially where they are dispersed.

In some areas, principally rural, the total minority population is tiny.  Diverse distinct minorities are barely detectable. The more isolated these groups are, the more vulnerable they are. Outside of London and Manchester, the Jewish Community is increasingly dispersed and invisible to local institutions, relying on support through national organisations. The localisation of budgetary decisions may impact disproportionately on minority communities. Unfortunately, a focus on meeting the needs of a local majority ignores the needs of a minority.

This was problematic even before the Act was passed.

Tower Hamlets Council, for example, recently voted to "do everything in its power" to support a boycott of Israel.  Extreme views (in this case not shared by the UK Government or opposition) can result in a motion being passed on a foreign policy concern irrelevant to local Government.

This means that local Jewish communities must take more direct responsibility for issues affecting them. Greater local engagement with MPs and councillors will be necessary. It will mean utilising social media and grassroots activism -a bottom up approach. The JLC is currently developing proposals as to how this kind of activity can be best supported and resourced.