Wednesday 19 May 2010

Big Society

Well, I was wrong. Or was I?

It looked as though the "Big Society" terminology had been dropped. But it was back Big time yesterday! Of course one explanation may be that my MP had been looking at my Blog and rose to the challenge!

Anyway it is extremely reassuring to have such strong and firm affirmation of the role of the third sector in delivering social change. The reality is that to build stronger communities we need a vibrant and growing sector. So the announcement on The Big Society Bank is greeted with a thousand cheers. The clear statement on the sector running more public services gets more.

Of course we will have issues to sort and we will have to work in partnership to deliver this agenda. And that means we do not allow Government to define what they think is "Big Society". Nor decide themselves what steps are needed. You cannot proclaim your belief in bottom up solutions and the need for local solutions and then decide from the centre what is to happen. We also need big solutions and big third sector organisations to deliver this ambitious agenda. This is not the time to start on the "small is beautiful" approach. What is needed is partnership and alliances between the larger more financially well resourced TSOs and the smaller or community based bodies. That is why ACEVO is working with our partners in the Community Alliance (The DTA, Bassac and Community Matters) on ways to democratise commissioning.

The Government must also recognise that the sector has to be fully involved in the discussions on the cuts to the public deficit. Already I have had reports of a number of organisations having their contracts and grants cut. There is a real danger that in the need to make £6bl cuts now some of our work will be seen as an easy target.

Great to see Nat Wei, who helped set up that great organisation Teach First, is now to act as an advisor on "Big Society" themes. I went down to Canterbury once to talk to the "Teach First" teachers and observed the programme. Highly successful and a practical demonstration of the power of third sector bodies to achieve change.

We need to work with HMT on ways in which we can contribute to more cost effective delivery. So we cannot be seen in a silo where the sector is only relevant as part of discussions on "Big Society".

As I said in my speech to the Tory Summit, our sector is now an economic force - able to play a bigger role nationally. One of our biggest challenges is how we ensure a bigger delivery role. How will the Government ensure more outsourcing; but outsourcing that does not favour the private sector. It would be a disaster if we see major outsourcing and all the plum contracts landing with the big commercial outfits and third sector organisations, whether national charities or local community organisations losing out.

I have to say I was impressed by the breadth and vision of Nick Clegg's speech on a radical approach to political reform. My Chair was there listening. It is a sad fact that the Labour Party had become strangely in love with a more authoritarian state. I always thought the ID card was an abomination and the growth in the powers of surveillance left many of my members working with excluded communities and the vulnerable deeply uneasy. It is high time there was a stop: indeed a reversal in this creeping authoritarianism.

So big ideas and vision. But the hard slog of practical change is under way. The sector's CEOs are up for the challenge.

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