Today I attended the launch of an ACEVO commission report on the Big Society, “Powerful People, Responsible Society”. I’m afraid I found the report quite insipid and stale. Even worse than the report were the introductions to the report from two of the speakers which showed me that whilst talk of localism runs deep, practice of it runs shallow!
Lord (Paul) Boateng wanted the Prime Minister to take greater charge of Big Society through a Cabinet sub committee that he chairs. Nick Boles MP wanted firm direction from the Government about how much of councils’ money should be spent through the third sector. The report itself asked for more definition of what Big Society means. Oh dear the Whitehall Warrior tendency rules supreme. Localism on our terms is what Paul and Nick seemed to be asking for. – All a bit Picklesish really!
The view that I articulated on behalf of the LGA was threefold:
- That we don’t want the centre to define Big Society. When they start doing that they will issue guidance, direction, targets, funding streams and we will all ending chasing policy and funding streams as we have been doing for most of the past 30 years.
- We don’t know what Big Society means but we can see very clear direction being laid down for localism through the Police Reform Bill; the Localism Bill; and the Health Reform Bill. They want devolution to councils and through councils to local communities. They set up an infrastructure that will enable that to happen provide those of us in local government are big and strong enough to pick up the challenges.
- That we all need to work together in a very different way and that the key to that was the enhanced role of the councillor. We are instinctive volunteers but ‘work’ in the public sector. Many of us have private sector experience in our working lives. We should be the ones that bring the public; private and; third sectors together in new and imaginative ways.
This commission report came over as a tired defence for the third sector and not an imaginative way of reinvigorating the third sector to meet new challenges and opportunities. Just what you might expect from the leading third sector Trades Union I suppose!