Localism making it harder for councils tackle climate change, study says

The policy of localism makes it more difficult for councils to implement effective climate change policies, according to research from Nottingham Business School.

Public policy and management expert, Dr Peter Eckersley, compared two councils – Newcastle upon Tyne and Gelsenkirchen in Germany – and studied how their ability to tackle climate change was influenced by the support they received from their central government.

He says the findings suggest that the more support a council receives from central or state government, the more it can operate independently within its local area and propose ambitious policies.

Dr Eckersley said: ‘Both cities are struggling financially due to a major cut in central government funding and a collapse in revenue from business taxes respectively, but have embraced sustainability to try and soften the blow of deindustrialisation and attract external investment.

‘Interestingly, however, their contrasting relationships with higher levels of government means that they have tried to achieve these objectives in very different ways.’

He found Gelsenkirchen to be in a strong position to provide leadership and clear direction due to factors such as accessible government grants and advice, a strong legal framework for sustainable development and broad control over local services with wide political support at higher levels.

In contrast, where this support was not forthcoming in Newcastle, the authority has relied on partnerships with the local university, businesses and voluntary groups to achieve its climate change objectives.

‘Since Newcastle Council doesn’t have much influence over the UK government’s attitude towards local authorities, it has adopted the only feasible strategy available, working more closely with other organisations in and around the city to fill the gaps,’ added Dr Eckersley.

‘Without this support, they would have struggled to deliver on major projects,

‘Despite proposing some ambitious projects, the council has struggled to continue with many of them because of legal and capacity constraints.’

The study also warns that working with too many external partners could ‘dilute’ policies so they don’t sufficiently tackle the complex problems of climate change.

Dr Eckersley said: ‘Newcastle, like many other councils, has an increasingly detached relationship with central government, which means it has to engage with other organisations in the city on a much more equal basis.

‘There is a risk for all local authorities that giving the private sector too much influence over decision-making could mean that policies are weakened.’

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