A Future for Civil Society?
So the “Big Society” is back on the rocks.
A number of stories breaking in the press over the last week or so have demonstrated the increasing divide between David Cameron’s aspirations and the reality on the ground for the hard pressed community and voluntary organisations now bearing the brunt of his government’s massive cuts to local communities and services.
With such a harsh local government funding settlement this year (likely to be repeated next year and the year after), there were always going to be large scale casualties among those voluntary organisations that work with local authorities in delivering services to the community.
Tomorrow sees the TUC open its doors to the voluntary sector, hosting an event in partnership with NAVCA bringing trade unions, community and voluntary organisations, charities and NGOs together to look at the impact the Government’s spending cuts and reforms are having on those organisations and the communities they serve.
The Government’s talk of localism and community empowerment is fatally undermined by the very cuts that impact most on the people and communities that are in most in need of those services. So it is no wonder that councils like Liverpool have turned their back on the Big Society when they are being asked to do the impossible.
And now Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, outgoing head of CommunityService Volunteers has added her voice to those of the NCVO, NAVCA, and ACEVO in highlighting the decimation of community and voluntary services across the country.
There’s been some good blogs on this very issue, I particularly liked this list of 10 reasons why the Big Society concept was flawed, apparently written in response to a direct tweeted question by Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society. I particularly liked points 2 and 3 as they really get to the core of the problem. The Big Society is already out there, its the volunteers and organisations who already provide services in their communities. But they are not an army of free volunteers ready to supply public services on the cheap. Through commissioning and, yes, funding, there is a symbiotic relationship between local government and the voluntary sector. The two add value to each other and it is through working together that they can deliver.
When the Government steps aside and withdraws funding, that space is not filled by willing volunteers. That just will not happen. To think otherwise is fantasy. As is the idea that £100m of “transition funding” will bridge the estimated gap of £3 – £5 billion in voluntary sector funding that we can expect.
I, of course, don’t believe our Prime Minister or his Cabinet is full of fantasists. But then the alternative would be to conclude that all this Big Society talk was just PR guff used to cover an agenda of cuts and further outsourcing of our public services. Perish the thought.
The future looks bleak for our voluntary sector which makes it all the more important that a broad alliance is developed in response to the spending cuts. Tomorrow’s event may well be a crucial step towards building those relationships.