So this Big Society….

I go to a lot of meetings at the moment (well I do that all the time) but at these meetings the ‘Big Society’  is frequently mentioned.  Some of those who mention it talk about the localism agenda, the empowerment of communities, the unfettering of people who want to do things and make things happen. Great, what could be better? But I do a lot of  scrutiny so I am bound to ask Who? What? and How? Apparently they’ve been making a list and on it are the Scouts, St Johns Ambulance, the CAB, GL Communities and a whole range of other fine organisations.   They will take up the challenge and bring forward a host of volunteers.

But these organisations have been around for a long time. They are not a new idea. Along with services provided by local and national government and the people in our communities  they make up what I like to think of as, umm….Society.  A society we all should contribute to and a society  that helps us when we need it. But now responsibility is being handed to us all, whether or not we are able to take it up.

The organizations that are mentioned on the Big Society list are not necessarily replacements for public sector services. They have their own aims and many are stretched financially and in getting volunteers. The ones that provide vital services such as legal advice, play schemes, clubs for young and old, are having their grants cut. Their staff are being made redundant. When they are cutting back on these things how will they run a library or provide quality respite care?

Those who are pushing forward the ‘Big Society’ agenda resist any opposition or challenge to their ideas by saying that difficult choices must be made and that any protest is somehow an attempt to undermine it. Questions like ‘where will the money come from’ can be brushed aside. There may be money from the Big Society Bank, money may be raised somehow, people may bid to run services. But in the meantime the cuts in public services and the voluntary sector will leave a gap that is not quantified or understood. I think that it is unacceptable for those who are making the cuts to be so cavalier about the impact of those decisions.

So I sit in meetings and some people talk about the Big Society with a mixture of anger and despair. Their challenges are communities with great needs, increasing demands on their services and sources of funding drying up all around. Then they make decisions to stop services, close buildings, make their staff redundant. Or to campaign to save their public services. Or to go out on the streets and protest.

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