Wednesday 11 November 2009

David Cameron, Big Society and ACEVO.

I went to hear the much trailed David Cameron speech on civil society last night at The Guardian . The only third sector person there as far as I could see. And got a chance to talk to him about the role of a bigger civil society in delivering citizen and community focused public services.

The speech itself was very interesting. I found quite a lot resonating, especially about the state delivering less and us delivering more! With our role in galvanising social action. In encouraging volunteering. Its worth seeing the whole thing. We will put it up on the ACEVO website. But in the meantime these are my Blackberry notes taken by me in the stalls! You can read the unexpurgated version on

Speech notes
  • Size and role of the state: State now inhibits work on progressing well being growth of the state has promoted less responsibility for individuals and communities. However it is not automatic that a smaller state is better. In general can't assume state retrenches and things improve.
  • So need a "Thoughtful re-imagination" of role and size of state. Create avenues and power for families and communities and individuals.
  • Re imagined state helps people take control of their lives. New role in actively creating " big society" and social renewal.
  • Move from state action to civil action. Use the state to actively help remake society.
  • Bringing two worlds of rich and poor together is key. Talked of the book "The Spirit Level" ( its on my desk but have never got round to reading it. So now I better!). Showed that GDP less significant than gap in wealth within society for well being.
  • Fair reward for talent can't afford to lock out people as we have done.
  • Need to focus on those who don't have chance for good life.
  • State has positive role. Most significant that size of state risen dramatically but society broken. One in three jobs under Labour have been created in the state.
  • So we need to remember the Tory tradition of celebrating small and local. Strand of political thinking that values this and not state power. Fabianism required state control. Did that work? Did it tackle poverty? Society role shrunk and gap rose. Poor got poorer. Social mobility frozen.
  • How can state spend so much fighting poverty with so poor results?
  • How change; firstly through eduction. Second through creating a stronger society; (for example sure start must have stronger role for charities.)
  • Payment by results. Change benefits system. Emphasis on responsibility. Family.
  • When we saw welfare state set up there used to be a wide panoply of civil Society orgs , co-ops, mutuals, charities . But these were squeezed out by State.
  • Big Government spawns perverse incentives.
  • Attempts to play a role in society means checks and intrusion.
  • Philip Blond says we have "disposed people".
  • What to do with state? Can't just step back. Not retrenchment. Civil society damaged. Can't take for granted that civil society simply springs back to life like freeze dried shrimps out of the fridge. Need to support a renewal of civil society.
  • The state must be smart and strategic. Not laissez faire. State acts as instrument to create "big society". Won't just happen. Use state to help remake society
  • Redistribute power. Decentralise power from central to local and individuals. But when collective is needed then communities- housing.
  • Where neighbourhood not possible then Local Government.
  • Increase responsibility and innovation. Need more transparency.
  • Non state collective action more effective in solving community problems.
  • People must have Power over services they use. State must help people take advantage. So need a special response. How achieve more involvement. How get communities and civil society more engaged?
  • Galvanise, encourage community engagement. Charities come together with others. Encourage Social action.
  • Social action projects in each constituency by Tory PPCs. Transform social action when in power.
  • Three groups needed:

1. Social entrepreneurs. Soon to be ennobled Debbie Scott mentioned (actually she runs a charity but let that pass) Lighthouse group- work confined to just four Cities. Should be everywhere. Identify best like them and scale up. (We need to tell him about the Innovation Exchange!) Franchise them to deliver public services from them. Fast growth.

2. Community activists. Want to help them to do more in communities. State must help with training and support to exploit opportunities. Help to start up groups etc. He mentions Chicago alternative policing and the Harlem children zone. (Note: must visit next time I'm there!)

3. Also engagement of population to get involved. Broad culture of engagement needed . Change social norms. Nudge social change. Facebook needs an extra line on social action on people's profiles- (what a great idea. Why don't they just do that?)

  • New national citizen service. Serve their local community. Inspire new youth. Need civic servants not civil servants.
  • "Loans as well as grants are essential ".
  • Can do and should do all this. New answers from a bigger society not state.

I asked a question. (Indeed the first of three; no flies on ACEVO when it comes to putting the third sector case.) Obviously.

On will we be asked to provide services on cheap as Government cuts spending. He said its the "Polly Toynbee" question! And the answer is NO. Don't intend to use us to achieve cuts. I mentioned ACEVO's book of 2003 "Replacing the State?" Where we argued the economic and social case for more third sector delivery of mainstream public services. And what we had argued was a bigger role for us in mainstream delivery. He agreed. He said he would rush out and buy the book! Problem is we are down to two last copies. Peter Kyle - give me that one back. David wants it!!

And it was then interesting to watch the news coverage of it. The speech got good attention and what I think was excellent was that we had the rare chance to listen to a discussion about the role of the third sector in community development and service delivery. There was a fascinating exchange between Theresa May and Yvette Cooper on it. This was a nice counterpoint to a discussion we had in a brainstorming of the Impact Coalition and its role and whether the public understand the modern enterprising third sector. I think if we have more debate on the issues that David Cameron has raised in the media and amongst public analysts and policy makers this is good for the sector.

No comments: