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Do you buy in to the ‘Big Society’?

Illustration of hands in the air

‘Localism’ and ‘Big Society’ are buzz words at the moment, both in media and government, but how many people understand what they actually mean? Does localism exist already and are you willing to get involved?

Some argue that the Communities and Local Government Committee report, released last week, heralds the death of localism.

The report described the localism agenda as ‘incoherent’, and there was a lot of criticism attacking the lack of clarity about what these terms actually mean.

Unsurprising, when a report by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) found that 78% of people feel that the government has failed to clearly define what the Big Society is all about.

What exactly is the Big Society?

So what’s your take on it? From my understanding, localism and the Big Society are sister polices which aim to devolve power from Whitehall to the town hall and local communities.

The Cabinet Office website uses this description:

‘The Big Society is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.’

Aren’t we already community-minded?

There are tangible programmes emerging, such as National Citizen Service and the Big Society Bank as well as the Localism Bill itself, which has just passed the second reading stage in the House of Lords.

But these fail to convince many people who feel that the agendas are rapidly crumbling, especially in light of the recent resignation of Lord Wei, the Big Society Tsar. In my mind, this criticism is unfounded, not least because it ignores the efforts already made by many to give to their community.

Certainly in Dorset, my home county, the villages are kept alive by community spirit. My sister regularly performs in shows put on by the village Foot Lights group, run by adults who give up their time every week (for free!) to make the productions happen.

But does this exist outside of Oliver Letwin’s middle class back garden? Have you seen any evidence in your local area? More importantly, would you be persuaded to contribute to your community as a result of the government agenda? This idea is all about us, and it won’t take off unless we start to donate more of our time and money.

Comments
Profile photo of dean
Member

For me, Big Society is forcing the redundant public service workers to do the same jobs voluntarily.

Goodbye regional development fund (Labour’s helping hand to the local economies – create public sector jobs), hello big society!!

Neither of which are the solution to our London centric economy

Member
pickle says:
14 June 2011

I don’t entirely agree with Dean. Seems the big society incorporates existing volunteers into the scheme and encourages others to do their bit.
As for me I have become active in helping deaf and hard of hearing people – the scheme takes off beyond local audiology units, which are overstressed, and sort of takes up the slack.
Hopefully the big society will bring people together and promote the sort of atmosphere we had during the last war.

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had conversations about the Big Society and the concept has been questioned. People don’t get what it is – it’s just a term that is bandied about with very little practical advice to back it up so people can really get involved.

I used to work for a volunteering charity and there are many, many people who have been – and will continue to be – involved in making their local area a better community to live in. They don’t need a fancy name to do this. The people who aren’t already committed need more guidance on where EXACTLY they fit into this concept, what is happening in their local area and what they can do to join in… there’s very little evidence of any of this so far.

Sadly, Dean’s opinion that it simply means filling redundant roles with volunteers seems to be a widely held belief, and I’m not sure I disagree.

Profile photo of richard
Member

As far as I’m concerned – I will do nothing for this appalling “government for FREE – I want to be paid for everything I do – or rather did.

When Cameron is really “all in this together” I might – only might – change my mind.

I used to do a lot of volunteering – not now – It is not worth it.

Profile photo of jo g
Member

I remember a former colleague who couldn’t understand why I volunteer, as after all I don’t get paid for it. To me volunteering is not about money – or I wouldn’t do it. I do gain quite a lot from it – skills, friends, experiences I might never have otherwise. I even met my now husband through volunteering.

I feel sad that richard’s experience(s) may have lead to him feeling volunteering is ‘not worth it’. It is hard work and takes up a lot of my time (my choice), but then as with all things you get out what you put in. I try to make this clear to new volunteers so they don’t become disillusioned because they had wrong expectations. Doesn’t always work though. And people being involved always makes things more tricky!

I’m not sure I agree with Cameron’s Big Society though, as it does seem the Government it trying to push what they were/are responsible for into the hands of the volunteer sector, which also has minimal money to help those in need. A tricky one.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Honestly Jo – my problems with the Condems are encapsulated in your last paragraph. Basically social care on the cheap and at the same time reducing the money to do the job properly. – unless it is for the privileged (I live in a slum area of London)

I will still help at my local pensioners club with computer classes etc – but not much else.apart from insect conservation which is my oldest love.

The last straw – I did a lot of conservation work and the Condems decided to try to sell off the few forests left – I’ll now wait until this lot dissolve or are voted out – And to think I used to vote Tory!

Profile photo of Jessica Moreton
Member

Thanks for your comment so far – it’s good to hear some examples of people already actively volunteering.

I think that most of your feelings are shared by many across the country. And it’s not just individuals who are trying to understand what the Big Society is and where they fit into the idea.

I attended a conference yesterday in which many local authorities were debating what their role should be. Some argue that the government agenda is by-passing them and attempting to hand power straight to the people. But one council trying to do things differently is Lambeth – who are in the process of becoming a co-operative council (or as some have dubbed it a ‘John Lewis’ council).

Lambeth council felt that people in the most deprived areas generally don’t connect well with services dreamt up in a bureaucratic office and so to create services which will really make a difference – they are getting the local people involved in designing and providing their own solutions.
Perhaps this is a sign that the Big Society is in action in various areas – including the deprived ones.

Jo g I also agree with your last paragraph – having heard many representatives from the voluntary sector speak on this subject it seems that they too fear that a huge amount of responsibility is being thrust upon them without any financial support to help them adjust to their new position.

Please keep you comments coming – it’s really interesting to hear your responses.

Member
Victoria says:
20 June 2011

In my view, almost everyone who comments on the Big Society gets the wrong end of the stick (which is perhaps a failing of the government communications). It is NOT about getting people to do more for less. It’s simply about shared responsibility, between the government, private companies, the public sector, the voluntary sector and individuals. That could mean that we see more joint ventures between public and private sector, or private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver public services, it will most likely mean giving more power to local decision makers and communities (surely a good thing), and if people support it and see opportunity instead of downing it the whole time it might actually make Britain a better place!

Profile photo of richard
Member

Sadly I do not believe anything this appalling government says – their communications skills are terrible. and so far everything they are doing – threatening to do – or U-Turning on – are all to do with saving money at the expense of the poorer – When Dave and Co actually do something that is at the expense of Dave’s self centred world and solely for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable – I might – repeat might – just start to change my mind.