Tuesday 7 December 2010

The Big Society Commission

Lord Rennard, former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, (and also a former ACEVO member!) is to Chair a Commission on Big Society bringing together high profile political and civil society thinkers.

It's an interesting group which will come together to define and analyse the "Big Society" concept from the point of view of civil society. It includes; The Bishop of London, Philip Collins (Chair of Demos and leader writer for The Times), Nick Boles MP (PPS to Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibbs MP), Paul Boateng (former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and former High Commissioner to South Africa, Louise Casey, the Victims Commissioner and Michael Quicke, CEO of CCLA.

Those from the sector have been chosen to reflect the range of the sector from large charities to small, delivery and campaigning and advocacy; Dame Clare Tickell, Action for Children; Matt Hyde, Chief Executive, National Union of Students; Jane Slowey, Chief Executive, Foyer Federation, and Chair of Skills Third Sector; Hilary Belcher, Chief Executive, Mosaic Clubhouse; Peter McGurn, Chief Executive, Goodwin Trust and Srabani Sen, CEO of Contact a Family.

It's an impressive group; we wanted a broad based bunch to reflect different angles and views so there is cross party and cross sector representation!

"The Commission on Big Society launched today is being formed by ACEVO in order to articulate a civil society vision for what charity leaders want to achieve through the Big Society agenda, and to recommend practical steps that Government, third sector organisations and others need to take to make that vision a reality".

And all good Commissions should be launched on The Today programme! Lord Rennard did a good interview, articulate and impressive. Inevitably he had to deal with the money question. As all our members face cuts does Big Society mean anything? He gave a brilliant example of how our service delivery is often both a better service but more cost effective so Government needs to consider investment in our sector. Speaking at the launch of the Commission on Big Society, Lord Rennard today said,

Big Society presents exciting opportunities for civil society and the country more broadly but it’s crucial that we think through the practical actions needed to make it work. It is important that this thinking takes place not just within the confines of Whitehall but encompasses the views of leaders from across civil society.”

I think it is time we started defining Big Society rather than listening to Government Ministers telling us what it is, or isn't! We should take ownership of this idea and give it clarity and definition; we can then tell Government the steps needed to promote the country's civil society and work with them to achieve it.

The Commission will hold their first meeting in January. There will be a series of Commission evidence gathering meetings around the country, and research to support it, including the work of NCVO through the support of their talented Head of Research, Karl Wilding. This will be a Commission that gathers together views across our broad and diverse sector.

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