Sunday, February 06, 2011
'The Big Society' Has Now been Virtually Abandoned
But the forestry sell-off also represents something more ambitious: it is supposed to be a flagship example of Mr Cameron’s “Big Society” at work. A government consultation paper on the forestry plans explicitly talks of “shifting the balance of power from ‘Big Government’ to ‘Big Society’”, as the state gives way to a locally responsive patchwork of “civil society, businesses and individuals.” It is here that the real problems start....To be blunt, the government is failing wretchedly to sell the Big Society.
The journal concludes that the government's:
vision for a flourishing society blends localism with the charity sector and business. Alas, just now Britons seem reluctant to accept that the profit motive can co-exist with altruism. That is the real lesson of the row over forests: if the coalition is serious about building a less statist Britain, it cannot dodge that crisis of trust forever.
Personally I was always very sympathetic towards the notion itself- and felt Labour should have seized on it first- but very doubtful that people would voluntarily give up their free time to run things like, well the often cited example was public libraries. Now that 400 odd libraries are set to be abolished I fear that any chance of the idea taking wing has been destroyed.
A more direct attack on Cameron's pet project is offered by Catherine Bennett in the Observer today. Expressing surprise that the notion had survived the election campaign, let alone a year of the Coalition's time in power, she notes that Liverpool, one of four 'vanguard' centres for the application of the idea, has decided to exit the scheme:
The council leader, Joe Anderson, said cuts of more than £100m would threaten existing voluntary organisations. "How can the city council support the big society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves," he asked, "when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups"
Bennett then notes that the Big Society Tsar, Lord Wei, has decided to reduced his three day week on the project to two because he feels he does not have enough time for it unpaid. She adds a question whether 'Big' government could be neutralised by a 'Big' Society, just one of the many opaque aspects of this amorphous concept.
Finally, the Big Society minister Francis Maude, was asked if he volunteered:
Maude told the BBC's Eddie Mair: "I do… golly, what do I do?
A question I think we have all asked about various oddball ministries and their ministers...
I think the Big Society was a great idea ruined by one fatal flaw - it did not realize how busy most people in work are, and how disengaged from community life most people who are out of work are becoming. The only way it could really work is in fairly small communities dominated by self-employed or retired people - and in such communities it had already more or less happened (e.g. in one village near here the villagers keep open the pub and a sub-post office themselves).
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