Friday 13 May 2011

Whither Big Society?

Have you noticed? Where has Big Society gone?

This week marks the first anniversary of the coalition. They produced a paper listing all their achievements. But the term Bigsoc was strangely absent. ThePM writes major article for the Mail on Sunday. Again no mention of Bigsoc. And we are one year on from the launch of it all in No 10.

ACEVO launches the Commission on Big Society on Monday. A Commission chaired by Lord Rennard , with illustrious members like that magnificent prelate my Lord Bishop of London , lord Paul Boateng, Dame Clare Tickell ,Nick Boles MP amongst others. It's message is that this was a policy that was poorly articulated and poorly communicated , but that at root is an important statement of the power of citizens and communities. It criticises business for failing to get behind the concept. It argues that the banks and financial bodies have largely failed communities by refusing to loan or back the third sector. It says we need a Community Reinvestment Act and a levy on the banks profits to go to charity. Of course banks are large supporters of charity. Bit the Report urges them to do more.

The Report from the Commission has called on the government to give people paid time off work to voulnteer in their community. Currently employees have the right to take time away from work for certain public duties, such as serving as a magistrate or on the governing body of a school so we are calling on the government to extend the Employment Rights Act to include voluntary work, to help bring about the prime minister’s vision.

A poll, conducted by YouGov for the commission, showed that 9% of employed adults in Britain said they would be very likely to apply for paid time off to do voluntary work, while 28% said they would be fairly likely — together equivalent to 10.8m people.The poll also found that 66% of British adults believe business leaders should do more for the communities they serve, for example by donating more of their profits or allowing staff to use paid time to take part in a volunteer project.

The poll also found that 74% backed demands that the Banks give 1% of their profits to charity. That is one of the key recommendations in the Report.

At heart , the concept of empowering more citizens and redrawing the boundaries amd relationships between state , civil society and citizens is one well worth supporting. This concept lies at the heart of the big society idea,and why public service reform is essential.
So what are we to read into the sudden silence on Big Society? What are we to make of the strange disappearance of the White Paper on public service reform. The " pause " on health service reform has allowed the opponents of reform in health a field day to oppose further opening up of the NHS to charity and social enterprise provision.

Significantly 78% of those polled said that the Government have failed to give a clear vision of Big Society.

There is a rather interesting comparison with the health reforms here. In both cases the Government have poorly articulated their vision and communicated it badly. The result is that both policies now seem to be on hold. We now need the Government to rearticulate the vision of a bigger, stronger society. One that marks a partnership between state . Citizen and our remarkable third sector.

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