The Big Society is one of the key phrases in the UK at the moment as the Coalition government re-frame public policy. From what I can read, in a nutshell the Big Society is David Cameron’s ‘big idea’ to fundamentally change the relationship between citizens, the voluntary and community sector and the state. Its main focus is a shift in the control of power of public services to local people and the third sector.
The government is looking to develop stronger communities, and wants to have neighbourhood groups in every community, and for every adult to be involved in a neighbourhood group (the last of which seems impossible to realise). Their hope is that through training 5,000 ‘community organisers’ the neighbourhood groups will have a real impact, making their communities better places to live, work and play.
Unfortunately for the Coalition Government this comes at the same time as we’re suffering mass cuts due to the state of the economy so it isn’t clear if this is just a big cover for the spending cuts or if it is truly about a more localised, and socially active society – I guess only time will tell.
A form of funding for all of this is the Big Society Bank which takes money that is sitting in dormant bank accounts, Labour introduced this in parliament pre-election, this does a similar thing, though it may support a wider range of activity than just loans for community enterprise. The bank is planned to open for business in April 2011, with assets of between £60m-£100m to start with.
However, more worryingly, David Robinson, the co-founder of the Community Links charity and a key supporter of this policy has written to the Government saying:
“Forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of unco-ordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?”
“Our most desperate need now is to maintain those services for the most vulnerable which will never be self-sustaining. It is these that are least likely to survive and it is the public funding of this provision that marks out our economy as that of a civilised and compassionate society.”
There is also additional funding of small grants for the community groups areas of deprivation (called ‘Communities First’) and funding to train 5,000 community organisers. But the government does want to see a significant increase in voluntary action which will not be paid for directly by the government, for example, libraries have been suggested as a place for staff cuts and increased volunteers.
There is still much detail to come, but it seems clear that the idea of Big Society is here to stay under this government so do check out the Cabinet Office Big Society Resource section. How is Big Society affecting your youth work and ministry – both in positive and negative ways – comment away.