What is the Big Society?
'Big Society' is the vision promoted by David Cameron during and after the 2010 General Election campaign.
- The Big Society David Cameron (November 2009)
- Building the Big Society Coalition Government programme (May 2010)
The Big Society is not a policy programme in the traditional sense. It's more like an outcome, or category of outcomes, that will be assessed at some future time according to the successful - or otherwise - implementation of three strands outlined by the Prime Minister on 19 July 2010:
- a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action, or 'what we can do for each other'
- public service reform - getting rid of centralised bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale, and open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies, or 'what the government can do for us'
- community empowerment - neighbourhoods taking charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them, or 'what we can do for ourselves'
A wide range of organisations and individuals have taken part in the discussion and debate around what 'Big Society' means, what it might look like in practice and how it might be delivered.
- Big Society Consultation Insitute briefings
- Big Society bite sized Urban Forum (August 2010)
- Big Society - the evidence base NCVO (July 2010)
- Civic Streets: the Big Society in action Demos (June 2010)
- Interviews with Lord Wei, former Government advisor on Big Society
- Big Society - challenges and opportunities NCVO (May 2010)
- The Big Society: How it Could Work PACES (May 2010)
- Ten Big Questions about the Big Society: and ten ways to make the best of it New Economics Foundation (January 2010)
Big Society and public spending cuts
Arguably the greatest challenge faced by the government around Big Society is to convince people that it can be established and developed when the government is simutaneously making big cuts in its spending on local government and public services.
- The Local Government Finance Settlement 2011-2013 House of Commons briefing (February 2011)
It has been widely argued that government cuts to it annual local government grants, the 'finance settlement', have disproportionately targeted poorer local authority areas that have a relatively higher dependence on the local public sector for income and employment.
- Spending Review response Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities (October 2010)
- Post spending Review briefing Institute for Fiscal Studies (October 2010)
Some local authorities had previously used specific central government grants such as Area Based Grant, Performance Reward Grant and Working Neighbourhoods Fund to replace significant elements of mainstream civil society grants programmes, particularly for local support and development organisations.
As these funding streams havebeen withdrawn by central government, many local authorities have simply passed on the reductions to local voluntary and community organisations.
The new Best Value Statutory Guidance sets out "reasonable expectations" of the way authorities should work with voluntary and community groups and small businesses when facing difficult funding decisions, particularly requiring local councils not to cut their local voluntary and community sector disproportionately.
- Cutting It: The 'Big Society' and the new austerity New Economics Foundation (November 2010)
- Big Society, Cuts and Consequences Centre for Charity Effectiveness, Cass Business School (November 2010)
The overarching policy by which the government intends to see Big Society delivered is 'localism'.
Although there is no universally accepted definition of localism, it is widely understood as meaning the devolution of decision making power to the most local level at which it can operate. In matters of national policy such power will remain with central government, but wherever possible it should be given to regions, local authority areas, neighbourhoods and communities and even individuals.
Although most of the rhetoric has been around local geographical areas and neighbourhoods, or communities of place, reference has been made to communities of identity, interest, need etc., or what Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation, has called "causal" or "virtual" communities.
Central to the government's localism agenda is the Localism Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech and introduced by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in December 2011.
In response to the Localism Bill, NAVCA and our partner organisations have developed the Real Power for Communities campaign, to champion the proposed new rights of local communities and ensure that the localisation of powers doesn't stop at local authority level.
- Whose Localism? Centre for Charity Effectiveness, Cass Business School (September 2011)
- Real Power for Communities NAVCA briefing (May 2011)
- Questions for Localism Sir Michael Lyons (January 2011)
Big Society initiatives
The government has developed and launched a wide range of initiatives relating to Big Society.
Some have to do with philanthropy and giving, and with ways of financing new and existing charities, voluntary and community groups, social enterprises and mutuals.
Big Society Capital (originally known as the Big Society Bank) has been designed to provide equity and loan capital to social enterprise funds and other intermediaries, to champion social investment and to be self-sustaining after five years. It includes within its structure a charitable foundation to receive donated funds for distribution to organisations who support its mission.
- Big Society Capital website
- Big Society Capital - details of investments (published in Civil Society, 13 September 2012)
- Minster for Civil Society Nick Hurd on Big Society Capital (April 2012)
- Urban Forum's Toby Blume on Big Society Capital (April 2012)
- Big Society Capital launch from New Philanthropy (July 2011)
Others are concerned with encouraging volunteering and social action in communities:
Still other are concerned with 'barrier busting', removing 'red tape' obstacles to local decision making and developing ways for people to become more involved in local decision making:
Big Society Survey
As the Government's plans for the Big Society began to take shape, NAVCA surveyed our members to gauge their understanding of the idea, and their expectations and reservations about the proposals.
- NAVCA Big Society survey results (PDF, 140kb)
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