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Committee Publishes Big Society Report

Mon, 19 Dec 2011 10:05 in News Digest
Dialogue Society News Digest

Last week, in their report the Public Services Select Committee (PASC) said that, there is still a great deal of confusion amongst the public on what exactly the Big Society is and will not be clearly understood without a coherent implementation plan put forward by the Government.

Eighteen months into the coalition government and the PASC warns that the Big Society project requires a substantial overhaul in Whitehall as the lack of clear implementation has lead to public confusion about the policy agenda. It was recommended that the Government develop a plan to address roles, tasks, skills and responsibilities in Whitehall departments which will address the barriers the ‘little Society’ experience in the contracting and commissioning system.

Press Perspectives

The Guardian – Wednesday 14th December 2011

Public Administration Select Committee's report on big society

The report notes that the PASC disagreed with civil society Minister Nick Hurd’s persistence that the public understand the ‘Big Society’ and calls on the Government to appoint a single minister to champion the project as it risks creating confusion.

The report concluded that greater clarity is needed on the roles of the private sector in public service provision and on the roles of the charitable and public sectors.

BBC – Wednesday 14th December 2011

Big Society is being hampered by lack of clarity - MPs

The Prime Minister, David Cameron has said that it is his “mission” to empower communities and open up public services, yet MPs recognise that the public and the voluntary sector remain unclear about David Cameron’s Big Society Project.

The PASC warned that there needs to be a “cultural shift” to enable engagement with the charitable sector and Ministers would need to coherently explain what the ‘Big Society’ means in “practical terms”.

Critics have said that funding cuts to the voluntary sector has damaged new groups that are being encouraged to take over the running of public services. Furthermore, the Committee also says that smaller providers are finding it harder to overcome the bureaucracy involved in public procurement and suggests the existing decision-making ethos in Whitehall needs a “cultural shift” as it favours big business and large charities over small, local groups.

The Economist – Tuesday 13th December 2011

How Dave's Big Society dream turned small

David Cameron set out to change the way that government worked yet some believe that it needs political capital to flow from the top continuously for it to succeed. If the coalition does aspire to be remembered for its role in changing the nature and practice of public service delivery in Britain, some have said that it has to be prepared to make the ‘Big Society’ a lot more than just a slogan.

The Economist reported that “the prime minister chose to put his Big Society rhetoric at the heart of his election campaign and re-positioning rhetoric, so he must expect to be judged on it. One criticism does stand out as particularly justified, namely the treatment of charities and voluntary groups who were intended to help to deliver public services as an alternative to state, alongside big business.”

Key Players

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin who chairs the committee said; "The prime minister has placed the Big Society project at the centre of his political agenda and it occupies a central place in the coalition agreement”.

"But this was never going to happen overnight. To make a change of this magnitude successfully will take a generation. It represents a whole new way of government. However, so far, the government has not been clear enough about what the Big Society means in practical terms."

The report’s concerns were welcomed by smaller charities who gave evidence at the committee. Chief executive of Navca, Kevin Curley, said: “I really appreciated the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee and try to explain what was needed to support local voluntary action. I am gratified that the Committee have listened to my evidence and have come out so strongly with recommendations to help the ‘little society’.

“They have understood the problems local charities and voluntary organisations face with the commissioning agenda, particularly with the Work Programme. This report supports the arguments Navca has been making for the last 18 months. If the Big Society is to succeed the government must act in support of ‘little society’. That means commissioning policies need to help local organisations, not just the big nationals.”

Moving Forward

The Guardian – Thursday 15th December

Do we need a minister for the big society?

Whilst the vague descriptions of what the ‘Big Society’ means continues and Ministers define it in different ways, some believe that the only way to achieve a comprehensive strategy with a clear understanding of the ‘Big society is to appoint someone in government to oversee it.

What are your thoughts? Do you understand the ‘Big’ aims of the ‘Big Society’? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook wall or tweet us at @dialoguesociety.