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June 23, 2010

Big Society – does Scottish Govt have a view?

Much has been made of the new coalition government’s Big Society idea.  Some say it’s a smokescreen in advance of the cuts in public expenditure while others see it as a genuine shift in the way government wants to operate in the future.    So far, the Scottish Government’s response has been to ignore it –but that’s not tenable in the long term. They either believe in this stuff or they don’t.  Last week, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude made a speech which was pretty unequivocal in tone and content

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, today called for a radical shift in the relationship between citizens and the state, when delivering his first keynote speech to leaders of charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises.

At the ‘Leading your charity through a time of change conference’ in Central Hall Westminster, the Minister spoke of the need for a ‘Big Society’ approach to overcome today’s economic challenges, social breakdown and deprivation.

Local communities are to have greater ownership of local problems, but also more power to change them, and public services to be answerable to those who use them.

Speaking at the conference Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, said:

“We need a Big Society, that derives its strength and compassion from the energy and vigour of millions of active citizens, formal and informal organisations independent of the state, and neighbourhoods where neighbourliness touches every life.

“We want local communities not only to have greater ownership of local problems, but to have more power to change them. We want public services to be answerable to those who use them, so that it is parents, patients and community groups who shape how they work and what they do.

A more radical, new approach is needed, and The Big Society proposes just such a radical change. A radical shift in the relationship between citizen and state, moving from a presumption towards state control towards a presumption towards community action.

The Minister also spoke of integrating local services – bringing together resources, budgets, skills and ideas to address multiple challenges. He said developing more focused integrated local services can unlock the potential of communities and frontline workers to design and deliver a genuinely joined up approach to multiple challenges.

Mr Maude then set out his strong commitment to:
• National Centres of Community Organising to train a new generation of community organisers and measures to support the creation of neighbourhood groups, especially in the most deprived areas.
• Introduction of a National Citizenship Service to give 16 year olds the chance to develop the skills needed to be active and responsible citizens.
• Giving public sector workers a new right to form employee owned cooperatives and bid to take over the services they deliver.
• Making it easier to set up and run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation. Working straight away to identify and reduce unnecessary red tape.
• Get resources into the sector by instituting a Big Society Bank, using money from dormant accounts to invest in social goals.
• Encouraging a social norm of volunteering and philanthropic giving and instituting a national day to celebrate and encourage social action.

Mr Maude ended his speech by saying:

“My commitment to you is that we are not looking to hand over our social problems to you and walk away, but to play our part in a broad partnership for change.  Partnerships of the sort that the sector is already expert in building, bringing businesses, communities, donors and investors together to make a real change, and put power back in the hands of those who understand local problems and have the biggest stake in overcoming them.”

A full copy of the speech is available