Posts Tagged 'Big society'

After ‘big society’

Colin Miller and Gabriel Chanan

Colin Miller and Gabriel Chanan

What kind of phoenix will arise from the ashes of the big society?  (We don’t think the phrase merits capitals as it’s not really a coherent programme, just a loose idea.) As a government theme  it lasted about two and a half years. It was pretty well pronounced dead by a number of national charities at the end of 2012, as it became clear that the voluntary sector was declining alongside the public sector, rather than growing to take up the slack. Donations had declined and a number of charities were collapsing. Arguably the original idea was not, or shouldn’t have been, mainly about the big charities to start with, but about the majority of the voluntary sector – the small, locally autonomous community groups. But these have declined as well, as local authority cuts have decimated small grants, community work support, community centres, libraries and other facilities on which the groups depended.

The big society theme does have a legacy: the Community Organisers scheme run by Locality; legislation encouraging communities to try to guide the siting of local building development (‘neighbourhood plans’) and to take over local public services and amenities; and Big Society Capital, the bank created from dormant accounts to invest in social enterprises. ‘Invest’ is the operative word. Community organisations which can’t, or don’t want to, operate as businesses aren’t in the running.

Rethinking community practice

Rethinking community practice

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the big society never established a serious foothold, community development (CD) has gained increased vigour as it has striven to adapt to the additional pressures of austerity. CD also struggles on in England, despite being decimated by the Coalition government: it is maintained by some local authorities, voluntary organisations and other bodies which realise that community input and local services stand or fall together, not in competition. ‘Asset based’ CD is gaining some ground, and many rural areas are still benefiting from the surge in Community Led Planning over the previous decade, a programme led by Action for Communities in Rural England. There remains wide interest in community empowerment and engagement, and many local government officers, along with other service providers, remain personally committed to finding effective ways of working with communities. But it is disheartening, when you have spent the day working with an officer on how to get better community engagement, to be told that their role is about to be made redundant.

The reorganised health service recognises the necessity for community involvement but hasn’t yet found an effective way to integrate it into policy. The health agencies can’t succeed without a massive shift of care from institutions to community settings. And the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal shows that an absence of community voice is literally fatal – allegedly over 1,000 preventable deaths at the hospital because individual complaints were not taken seriously. Public services necessarily have to be delivered by specialist expertise, but inspectorates and local government alone are not enough to ensure accountability to, and collaboration with, users. It needs a system of flexible, resident-led, cross-sector and cross-issue neighbourhood partnerships to join up professional services and living communities. The big society’s neighbourhood planning groups are too limited in scope and powers, but could be a foothold for a more comprehensive vision. We’ve tried to outline such a vision in Rethinking community practice.

Rethinking community practice is available with 20% discount from www.policypress.co.uk

DEBATE: A Big Society needs an active state

 

The Policy & Politics Blog features debates from recent issues . An extract is below, then please click on the link at the end to download the full article. Policy & Politics is the leading journal in the field of public policy with an enviable reputation for publishing peer-reviewed papers of the highest quality .

DEBATE: A Big Society needs an active state

Helen Sullivan

The state has become unfashionable again in the United Kingdom (UK). Following a brief flirtation with it as an agent for good under New Labour, the current financial crisis and the ideological preferences of the coalition government mean that the state is now regarded at best as an outmoded way of meeting needs, and at worst a block to citizen action, business entrepreneurship and efficient service delivery… Read the rest of this article by downloading the pdf (free).

The Conservatives and the future of social welfare

Under David Cameron’s leadership, prior to the 2010 general election the Conservatives sought to present a more ‘compassionate’ or ‘progressive’ face than under his immediate predecessors, with more socially liberal and inclusive rhetoric, and an emphasis upon the Party being more socially representative in its membership and particularly within parliament.

Since the election however, despite the necessity of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, arguably the position of the Conservatives (and the government as a whole) has hardened significantly, not only with regard to reducing the deficit, but also across whole swathes of social policy. The government’s changes to social security, reforms of the NHS, changes to education, and proposals for ‘localism’, all have major implications for the ways in which services are delivered and experienced by individuals, and these are in addition to the likely impacts of substantial cuts in public expenditure.

Should the Coalition government persist until 2014 it seems probable that the shape of welfare services will be considerably different from now, with a smaller role for the state and a larger role for the private sector and potentially for social enterprises and the voluntary and community sector, although Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ remains amorphous, and its future uncertain. It is important, therefore, that we seek to understand what the provision of social policy could and should look like in the future.

Hugh Bochel, author of The Conservative Party and social policy, publishing this month

Community development and civil society

The coalition government’s implementation of Cameron’s idea of the ‘big society’ has, to date, been minimal. If the government does develop policies based on the idea they will, at some point, have to ensure that it connects with the principles and practice of community development. Given that the government now has an Office for Civil Society (replacing the Office for the Third Sector) it will also have to make sense of the concept of civil society.

Use of the term ‘civil society’ has increased noticeably in western Europe in recent years. Often this has resulted from observing how ‘civil society’ in central and eastern European countries has been fundamental to political and social change. ‘Civil society’ is a necessary condition for ensuring lively, strong and participatory democracy. This is the territory explored in Community development and civil society.

In the book, Ilona Vercseg and I make the case for community development being an essential component of efforts to build a stronger ‘civil society’. She and I met through a European network of community development organisations and we collaborated on a number of exchanges and conferences in Hungary, other parts of central and eastern Europe and the UK. She and her husband were central to the setting up of the Hungarian Association for Community Development (HACD) at the time of the fall of the Communist regime at the end of the 1980s. It went from strength to strength and remains active. Its work provides many of the examples and principles discussed in the book. The Hungarian material is placed alongside an analysis and critique of community development in the UK context. The latter includes chapters on regeneration, social control and community care.

The process of understanding nuanced meanings of key concepts – and of translating them accurately – has been challenging. If, however, we succeed in clarifying the specific contribution that community development can make to building civil society then the patience and effort will have been worthwhile!

Paul Henderson is co-author of Community development and civil society


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