If we have seen a common retreat by the Big Three central parties from a Big State Britain - that all recognise is unaffordable - there has been no such retreat from Central State Britain. The circle that Cameron's shambolic government is now trying to square is how to maintain central State command and control with a budget of not more than 40% of GDP. The half-baked solution they've come up with is to shift the cost to charities and volunteers, who will continue to take their orders from Whitehall, but will do the job off the P&L account. IDS, a sincere and well-meaning man but by no means a genius, is replacing one failed central State welfare system with another that is on the verge of failure before it starts.
You see, although they know that all public services should be devolved down to the lowest level at which they can be economically provided, they just can't bear to let go. And that's because when you devolve these services you need also to devolve the decision-making process, and that's what Whitehall and Westminster are gripping onto will all their collective might. It's anathema that a local neighbourhood council may make its own decision about the acceptable levels of litter on its streets, and how much they will pay to maintain their chosen standard. Instead, DEFRA issue a highly detailed guide to determine whether the National State Litter Standard is being maintained, and by definition dictates a level of expenditure to be applied everywhere from Truro to Longtown. Local councils are no more than Whitehall's branch offices, their supposed democratic status a sham, a reality known by the hundreds of thousands of local councillors who have walked away in disgust and despair since 1979.
And so when Oliver Letwin, a minister with half a brain, is charged with finding the spending cuts from Whitehall's branch office network rather than from Whitehall's corridors of power he has little to fall back on but a new spin on a Thatcherite idea; privatisation. And of course he is ably assisted by the Central State's great allies and partners the Big Five; this time it's Crapita's turn to pocket the wedge.
Localis ('Localism Lite - keeps all of the powers with none of the costs') and Crapita Symonds have just authored a report that was launched last week by Letwin. 'Catalyst Councils' advises Whitehall's branch network how to outsource service provision without giving away the reins of power at the same time. Basically, as it comes down to giving the contracts to Whitehall's Services and FM favourites such as Serco and G4S. There's no great difference between this and Compulsory Competitive Tendering, which failed so abysmally in the 80s/90s (except for the firms who racked up the profits, of course).
The notion that a small neighbourhood council might directly employ a street-sweeper without asking him to provide a completed 600 page contract document, Equalities Policy, H&S Policy, RA&MS, Performance Bonds, OJEU notice, Management Structure, HR Policy and Fleet Management System just simply doesn't occur to them. As ever, it's just institutionalised corruption, jobs for the boys, barriers to entry and political graft and back scratching.