Posts Tagged 'coalition government'

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

Policy & Politics: Rethinking the role of the state

The newly elected Coalition government has announced an eye-watering austerity budget, with more detail of cuts to come. Similar moves are being made by governments across the developed world. Alongside this fiscal retrenchment the Coalition wants to initiate a debate about the role of the state. Are public sector activities better located in the private or third sectors? We will have to wait to see quite what this means in practice. Will the state disengage completely from whole areas of activity? Or is it a question of pushing provision out of the public sector, with government continuing to fund services and exert strong regulatory control?

Such a rethink could present opportunities for third sector organisations. But it can also present significant challenges. Ann Nevile’s forthcoming paper in Policy & Politics provides a timely reminder of the potential tensions between output legitimacy – value for money services – and normative legitimacy – values and community connectedness – that government seeks from third sector providers. Her research reaffirms that the most important strategy for maintaining normative legitimacy is retaining a mixed funding base, even though the transaction costs associated with doing so are considerable. This strategy also helps maintain organisational flexibility and innovation.

We are only just beginning what could turn out to be a significant transformation of the welfare mix. Recognising the complex competing pressures and accountabilities facing third sector organisations will be a vital part of the debate.

Nevile, A. (2010) Drifting or holding firm? Public funding and the values of third sector organisations, Policy & Politics, advanced access.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics

Evaluating New Labour’s legacy

Were you still up for………er……. Lembit Opik? No ‘Portillo moment’: Jacqui Smith and Charles Clarke were about the best that the night could deliver. No ‘Edgbaston’ like 1997 (Labour landslide) and no ‘Basildon’ like 1992 (Conservatives hanging on). [Blair’s legacy is that we all write sentences without verbs!]. So New Labour ends not with a bang but with a whimper, and even that was drawn out for days as we followed the courting rituals of the parties. It is a sobering thought to have your books consigned to ‘history’. New Labour, new welfare state? (1999) explored the ‘third way’ in social policy. Evaluating New Labour’s welfare reforms (2002) examined delivery and achievements against aims and objectives. Modernising the welfare state (2008) examined Blair’s legacy in social policy. Since then, Brown has ‘saved the world’. Some things did get better, but at a cost. ‘Prudence’ and ‘New Labour’ will be wise spenders, not big spenders’ seems like a distant memory. Who would have thought that New Labour would end up redistributing towards merchant bankers (Cockney rhyming slang optional)?

Farewell, then, to New Labour. It may well be that 2010 was an Election better not to win. You can read about Conservative/Liberal Democrat policy in Hugh Bochel’s 2011 book The Conservative party and social policy, and perhaps someone, somewhere is already planning a book about ‘Team Miliband’ (hedging my bets), although ‘The Social Policy of Balls’ has the hint of a bestseller. In an uncertain future for social policy, you can be sure only of one thing: you can read all about it with ‘Policy Press’.

Martin Powell, author of Modernising the welfare state, Evaluating New Labour’s welfare reforms and New Labour, new welfare state?

Community Care Live 2010

Just back from a busy Community Care Live 2010 – it was great to meet lots of social workers and students and to network with delegates and other exhibitors. I attended a very interesting keynote from Dr Maggie Atkinson – the Children’s Commissioner for England only two months in post – on Wednesday morning. She seems genuinely committed to being a “champion for children” and was an engaging speaker to a sadly limited number of delegates (10am too early perhaps?!).

She outlined her current priorities, which included working with ‘resistant’ families and gaining children’s perspectives on safeguarding. She also said that she accepted the need of the children’s workforce (including social work) for training and development to be able to provide more effective services for children.

Dr Atkinson was able to report that on Tuesday she had met officially for the first time with the new Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. Several delegates at CC Live had grumbled concern that the change of department title from Children, Schools and Families back to Education signalled the new government’s intention to deprioritise the wider range work with children and families, including social work. Dr Atkinson said that she felt the Secretary of State was equally committed to children and families, that there was no apparent change to the remit of the department and that there was no intention to rescind Every Child Matters (so get to grips with it if you need to by reading Making sense of Every Child Matters!). She also said that she was impressed with the new government’s early commitment to ending detention for refugee and asylum seeking children.

In line with what other experienced practitioners were saying at the conference, when asked what one priority she would encourage Michael Gove to take on board it was (appropriately) to “not to throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Perhaps we should send him a package of Policy Press books so he can swot up on some evidence of good and not so good policy and practice!

Karen Bowler, Senior Commissioning Editor, The Policy Press


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