Today in Liverpool the Prime Minister will launch his big idea – the Big Society. But does David Cameron really have a vision for the future or is he merely rehashing old ideas with a new spin in order to justify spending cuts?
So what is the Big Society?
Cameron claims it is all about empowerment, reducing red tape and people taking power from the state. Volunteering and community action are also mentioned, but it is difficult to tease out a coherent idea from the rhetoric – other than reducing the role of the state.
The Tory idea of allowing anyone to run a school apparently fits within this ideal, as does giving GPs in England far greater responsibility for budgets – which most of them don’t actually want.
Cameron is expected to announce that community projects in four parts of the UK – Liverpool; Eden Valley, Cumbria; Windsor and Maidenhead and the London borough of Sutton – are to pilot his big idea.
Each of the project areas will be given an expert organiser and dedicated civil servants to ensure “people power” initiatives get off the ground. Some of the ideas so far include a buy-out of a rural pub and recruiting volunteers to keep museums open
Are you inspired?
Funding for the projects will come from cash sitting in dormant bank and building society accounts. The previous government passed legislation allowing money that lies for 15 years to be used if the account holder cannot be traced. Although don’t expect Cameron to mention the fact that he is using Labour legislation.
Reducing the role of the state is of course a priority for Cameron. And with the savage cuts that are being introduced getting people to do more for themselves is an economic necessity. But will the people actually buy into this idea?
The idea of the voluntary sector delivering services is not at all new. Over many years funding for many charities and community groups has moved from grants to contracts and service level agreements. Does this new initiative simply mean more of the same, or indeed attempting to do more with less?
Cameron is already on the defensive. In interviews today he has repeatedly been forced to defend his big idea against the notion that it is simply an attempt to put a veneer over spending cuts.
So is it Big Society or big con?