During the 1980s a number of Labour local authorities committed themselves to decentralising service delivery to neighbourhood bases and establishing new mechanisms of consumer control. Achievements in practice have been limited. This article examines the reasons behind the failure to push ahead aggressively with decentralisation. Public expenditure constraints and the resistance of established organisational interests are identified as important factors. It is further argued that on close examination the nature of Labour's support for decentralisation is, in some cases, conditional and pragmatic, and in others, it is riddled with contradictions and tensions. In short, Labour's failure reflects an under lying uncertainty about whether it wants a full-blooded decentralisation.