Friday, 11 February 2011

My thoughts on the "Big Society"

In this week's Cornish Guardian, I have used my column to consider what the new Government's Big Society actually is. The article is printed below:

As a councillor, I hear a lot about the new government’s drive for a “Big Society.” And here in the Duchy, we even have a Conservative-led Council mimicking central government with its own “Big Cornwall” project.

But what is this “Big Society” concept and what is David Cameron actually trying to achieve through it?

Launching the initiative back in July 2010, the Prime Minister claimed it was about “transferring power from the state to individuals … allowing communities and voluntary groups to help run public services.”

He suggested that community groups should, for example, be able to run post offices, libraries and transport services, with charities also providing services previously delivered by the government and local councils.

I consider that these plans are misguided and totally unworkable.

I look around Cornwall and I already see local people doing an enormous amount of work to safeguard or improve public services in their communities – helping to manage village halls and play facilities, running nurseries, community groups and clubs, also reaching out to the vulnerable and those in need in their locality.

These wonderful people do fantastic work, often on very limited budgets. What is more, they do not operate in isolation. They are often dependent on support from local councils and grant bodies, to assist them in their activities.

Take the example of Liverpool. Six months ago, the city was chosen as one of four pilot areas to demonstrate the merits of the “Big Society” in partnership with the government.

The leader of Liverpool City Council has since pulled the council out of the arrangement.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote that they could no longer support the “Big Society” and its aim to “help communities do more for themselves.” He stated this was as a direct consequence of the Government’s funding decision, which meant that the council would be forced to cut financial lifelines to hundreds of vital and worthwhile community groups.

In these austere times, local community groups and volunteers need real support to help them improve what they can do for their areas. We do not need the promotion of some dubious concept by the government, which is being used to justify their deep cuts to funding for the public sector.

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