Cuts for the Big Society

The big society is David Cameron’s big idea. He wishes to devolve power to people, to communities and to users of services so that their voices can be heard,, taking power from the dead hand of faceless bureaucrats and official jobsworths.

It is unfortunate bathos that this great breakthrough in power and local accountability is initially four “Vanguard Councils” recruiting volunteers to allow libraries to stay open later. Still, it’s a nice idea – the sort of thing that would bring pleasure to anyone whose ever been a scout or a volunteer (and I mean that with no snark).

My problem with it is not the intent, but the likely execution. As I’ve long argued, Little platoons need rations too. Willing the ends but skimping the means (or skirting issues around the means, like whether it will be easier for Windsor and Maidenhead residents to raise funding for a new athletics track than it would be for residents of Felling) is a recipe for policy failure.

So perhaps it will be worth documenting every time this government cuts funding for a project that does exactly what the Big Society is supposed to do? It might be a useful exercise for someone in Labour HQ, or in the Labour Group of the LGA.

To begin – this week the government cut the entire budget of “National Tenant Voice” an organisation that exists to stand up for the interests of tenants in social housing.

Obviously, the Government will say that this national level group, representing the interests of tenants with 50 unpaid volunteers trying to raise issues of housing quality and policy issues is bureaucratic, unwieldy and so on, not at all like the groups they want to see prosper. Odd then that the NHS is setting up a very similar programme – called Health Watch England.

9 Responses to “Cuts for the Big Society”

  1. bert

    The “Big Society” is an exercise in cynical politics, and not much else really. Who could argue against “empowering local people” – whoever they are?

    I have absolutely no objection to the government shrinking the state umbilicus – why don’t they just admit it?

    Much more important is Gove’s ambitious (and brilliant in my view) idea for ALL school’s in England to become academies – or apply to, I should say.

    Does any right thinking person really believe the state is the model educator in this country? I would suggest they are the WORST option out of any presented.

    I look forward to a piece on this, Hopi – and your predictable objections.

  2. donpaskini

    The Future Jobs Fund has been the biggest example of the Big Society in action – until they cut it.

    Still, scrapping 40,000 jobs where young unemployed people worked for charities while funding the post of community organiser in Windsor and Maidenhead does show what the Big Society is really all about quite nicely.

  3. Mike

    You’re confusing the drive to localism, and the abolition of joined-up government, with the ‘big society’, or not paying for local services.
    “National Tenant Voice” is a natural target: it mentions National & Voice and threatens collective representation of all social housing tenants. Definite no-no (c/f Hitler in the ’30s). In contrast, “Health Watch England” will only represent local health issues, not collective. The principle of Divide & Conquer is retained.
    And who cares about “patient choice”? Not me. Those that can afford to go private, can go private. As with schools, what I want is good local services, with access to the specialist stuff nationally if necessary. “Patient choice” is a collossal waste of taxpayers’ money and only serves to inflate the bureaucracy and provide redundant capacity.
    As for the drive to localism, this is replacing strategic planning, covering entire regions and decades, in which the locals are properly represented, with feudalism: arbitrary & conflicting short-term decisions, in favour of the local bigwigs, only discovered by the locals when the builders move in.
    Never mind the NIMBY-bribing slush fund of council rates: a new version on Building Society carpetbagging.
    And as for Pickles’ abolishing councils’ free newspapers: someone needs to tell him who’s side he’s on. Tory councils went to a lot of trouble abolishing care for the elderly to increase their spend on media & PR.

    • Edward Carlsson Browne

      You’re right that nobody gives a toss about choice in the abstract, they just want a good choice for them.

      But the advantage for the coalition in talking about choice is that Blair loved the phrase and Brown used it somewhat nonsensically all the time in his last conference speech. It’s hard for Labour to object to it after that without provoking internal arguments of the standard variety.

  4. roger alexander

    Get the unemployed to do something for their local community in exchange for their taxpayer funded benefits,that’s a big society.

    • Edward Carlsson Browne

      I think we call that a petty, vindictive and small-minded society, at least in my neck of the woods. I’m not sure how treating the unemployed as if they’re little better than criminals helps to create the sense that we’re all in this together.

  5. Phil Harris

    The Big Society is cover for a cuts programme.

    There are other ways to help voluntary groups like the scouting movement.


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