Chris Rennard: Fill in the blanks of the Big Society

Acevo’s Big Society Commission, chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Lord (Chris) Rennard, has now produced its final report into the subject, entitled ‘Powerful people, responsible society’. The report calls on the prime minister to “take the reins” of the policy to articulate a much clearer vision of what the concept means.

Interestingly, the Commission came up with the following vision of what the big society means to them:

Our own vision is a society in which power and responsibility have shifted: one in which, at every level in our national life, individuals and communities have more aspiration, power and capacity to take decisions and solve problems themselves, and where all of us take greater responsibility for ourselves, our communities and one another.

And here’s what Lord Rennard had to say about the report:

“As a Commission we truly support the vision of a Big Society. We believe that as a concept it has the potential to transcend party politics. The Conservatives do not have copyright on Big Society – its roots and its prospects of success lie with all of us, in Westminster and beyond. However Government’s current failure to communicate plans effectively is breeding cynicism and means they are in danger of leaving the public behind.”

You can read the final report in full, and a summary of its findings, over on the Acevo website here.

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  • “Interestingly, the Commission came up with the following vision of what the big society means to them:”

    And immediately after that they made it clear what it shouldn’t mean:
    “We are clear, however, that this vision should not be equated with reducing the size of the state, or lead to the state abdicating its responsibilities, particularly with regard to the most vulnerable.”

    Other than that, having looked at the executive summary, I’m not convinced they have done any better than the government in saying what it means, in practical terms.

  • Andrew Suffield 29th May '11 - 3:56pm

    Well, it is just (a subset of) community politics under a different name. The Tories are just admitting that the Lib Dems had it right all along.

  • @Andrew Suffield
    “The Tories are just admitting that the Lib Dems had it right all along.”

    If only that were true, I think the Tories are using it as a smokescreen to slash required services.

    To me it is:
    Lib Dem Community Politics = Enable Communities
    Tory Big Society = Strip Communities of resources and hope people pick up the pieces

  • “The report calls on the prime minister to “take the reins” of the policy to articulate a much clearer vision of what the concept means.”

    Very polite code for “WTF you been going on about, mate?”

  • Andrew Suffield 30th May '11 - 6:53am

    If only that were true, I think the Tories are using it as a smokescreen to slash required services.

    Can you identify even a single spending cut that is related to the “big society” stuff?

    The Labour line is that since spending cuts and community politics are happening at the same time, clearly community politics is all about cutting spending. This is so blatantly gibberish that it’s remarkable how much air time they’ve been getting for it.

    The stated aims of the project are to increase localism, devolution, and decentralisation, to support co-ops, mutuals, charities, and social enterprise, and to increase government transparency. That’s basically lifted from any Lib Dem manifesto from the past century. The project is mostly just air – there’s been almost no actual action so far – with the exception of two projects that have been launched. Those are the “Big Society Bank”, which comes out of the Labour manifesto from a couple decades back, and is an effort to supply investment funding to charities and social enterprises, and the “National Citizen Service”, which is roughly a government-sponsored clone of the Scouts and Guides.

    That’s all it’s actually doing so far. I challenge anybody to show how that’s got anything to do with spending cuts.

    Of course, it’s also a bit half-hearted and probably going to generate more press releases than progress – I expect it’ll do a number of good things for a very small number of people and then be quietly forgotten about. The best we can realistically hope for is that it delivers on the goals of decentralisation, localism, and devolution by transferring more powers out of Westminster in the coming years.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st May '11 - 2:13pm

    “Big Society” is about people doing things on a voluntary basis because they enjoy doing it and take pride in it. This is at compete odds with the modern Conservative Party idea that the only thing that matters, the only thing that motivates people is making money. “Big Society” simply does not and cannot work alongside the social attitudes encouraged by the rat-race approach to life which all our governments since 1979 have had. All the things that might have made “Big Society” work have been gleefully smashed up by Margaret Thatcher and her successors.

  • I agree with Matthew Huntbach. It seems to be very hard to grasp the concept of working without a financial reward as the perceivable benefit yet this is the underlying theme of the ‘Big Society’. To take a base example 30 years ago it was not uncommon to find a local who would sweep and clean (and even put flowers in) telephone boxes. Each community seemed to value these and individuals within the community cared for them. This seems odd behaviour nowadays – in the big cities it was odd even then. This type of behaviour is a loss that the ‘Big Society’ seeks to regain. Small actions that make the community a more pleasant place to be in and that set an example to those in the locality whose mindset had not considered the generosity of behaviour that does such things with no thought of any personal gain for doing it. In a ‘Big Society’ the small actions count.

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