Cameron's Localism Lite™ has run into trouble long before I thought it would. His attempt to short-cut the necessary process, which must involve both the devolution of formal democratic structures to their lowest level and with them tax-levying powers, has left the initiative isolated and perceived as merely central government cutting local services. With the devolution of formal democratic structures to the level of the parish or ward, together with tax-setting powers for property taxes and the responsibility for environmental and cultural services, and together with the devolution of VAT receipts and VAT rate-setting to the level of the existing county or metropolitan borough with responsibility for schools, hospitals and libraries, the initiative could have been so different. It would be local electors, not central government, who make decisions on local services; it's one thing complaining about 'the government' shutting your town library, it's quite another to decide not to raise local VAT by 3% to pay to keep it open.
For Localism to work, local people need to own tax and spend decisions. The devolution of real power also makes tax and spend on local services a matter for local parties, not Westminster. The news media will find little to report; "On the news tonight, Chillington Parish Council is raising parking charges by 60%" isn't going to make the ten o'clock bulletin. By the same token, there must be real financial incentive for local communities to take back the functions assumed by the central State - it's not enough to step into the breach to preserve local services in return for a vague thanks for keeping the Treasury's budgets in line, there must be a real, immediate and worthwhile financial return in terms of lower taxes locally. Or a willingness to pay higher taxes locally.
All the fripperies of Localism - the Big Society Bank, the transition fund and all the rest - just won't work without a real devolution of democratic power and tax power. The reform of local government, the creation of a new tier of democratic structures at the level of the commune, may be a difficult and demanding change that will be hungry of resources, but without it Localism is going nowhere.