A new report published by trade unions and voluntary groups has highlighted potential flaws in the government's localism agenda, as outlined in the Localism Act.
Jointly produced by the TUC and National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), Localism: Threat or opportunity? includes articles from a range of diverse voices from the union and voluntary sector including the TUC, Adur Voluntary Action, Age UK, the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), the NCIA, the Northampton Institute of Urban Affairs, the Runnymede Trust, Shelter and the Women's Resource Centre.
The report reveals that while many in the voluntary sector are keen to see more engagement between public service providers and local community organisations, the government's determination to create competitive markets for public services and a failure to understand collective and community approaches to public service provision could seriously undermine this relationship.
New powers within the Localism Act, such as the Community Right to Challenge, come under particularly scrutiny in the report. The TUC and voluntary organisations fear that the Right to Challenge, which allows local non-profit groups to bid to run public services, will simply open up competition for services to the benefit of large private sector outsourcing companies.
Other concerns raised in Localism: Threat or opportunity? include the lack of capacity within certain communities and voluntary organisations to buy local assets or produce neighbourhood plans. The report fears that this will simply empower those in the community with the loudest voices, the most resources and the sharpest elbows to influence local decision-making.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Everybody wants to see public services that are responsive to local need, and where service users and staff are given a genuinely powerful voice in local decision-making.
"But the government's preoccupation with the power of market competition and outsourcing means that the big winners from the Localism Act will be private sector contractors, who will see the local not-for-profit groups as either 'bid candy' or cheap sub-contractors for delivering the service contracts that they hoover up.'
Andy Benson from NCIA said: "The government's Localism Act has been heralded as a shift of power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.
"However, in reality the main effect of the Act will be to hasten the privatisation of vital public and community services. This report aims to expose the reality behind the rhetoric, and provide the means for local communities and voluntary services to look this particular gift horse in the mouth."
* Localism: Threat or opportunity? is available at www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/354/Localism_Guide_2012.pdf