But devolution to local government is not the end of localism. A “local big state” is no more desirable than a “central big state”. Local government should seek to devolve to the most local level possible and to encourage communities to take over services. One example would be libraries. Libraries face funding challenges – in that they are more discretionary than other services, usage has declined, the unit cost of lending a book can be more expensive than the wholesale price of a book and customers have new book and information media and services (e.g. Amazon, social networking sites, etc). The level of community resistance to closing a library is usually disproportionate to the level of local usage, because communities believe that a local library belongs to them, not the council, and they believe in the future potential of the library to do great things. Devolution can allow new ideas to develop. For example – in North America libraries are often run by volunteers not paid council staff, whilst in the UK charity shops often have waiting lists of volunteers wanting to help them with book sales; much of the public space in a library is badly used storing infrequently used books; e-government has put libraries on line, but they still focus on a buildings based service; too many community groups are spending scarce resource on premises; where some councils have handed the library back to the community, they have often turned it into a much more vibrant community organisation and space. Giving councils total freedom on libraries could mean that they create huge social value from engaging a community in running its own library, backed up with some modern technology, whilst also saving large amounts of money on overskilled paid staff, poor use of space and unnecessary stock.
  1. ijclark posted this
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