The Big Society – All old bollocks?

About 15 years ago the Fast Show was in its heyday, and they had a little skit that was based on two old country guys sitting by a wall. One would ask the other “So, what do you make of that yoghurt then”, or “So, what do you make of that Michael Flatley then” or whatever, and the other would always reply “All old bollocks”.

When listening to Dave launching the ‘Big Society’ today, that sketch was the first thing that popped into my head.

It’s not that there isn’t a kernel of a good idea here – a more co-operative society, with mutualist organisation, charity-based volunteerism, and everyone helping each other out without needing to rely on central authority. It’s right up my alley, that kind of thing.

Problem is, I don’t see how the Government expects to bring it about at the same time as they cut loads of budgets and as we are just inching out of a recession.

Firstly, money is a problem. Local councils are getting hit hard by the cuts and one of the easiest areas for them to pull back on is their discretionary grants to local voluntary groups. Croydon just reduced it’s grants by two-thirds for the next year.Also, during a recession and recovery, popular charitable giving dips. So voluntary charity groups are really not in a position to be expanding their services without some extra assistance

Secondly, the approach seems to be for the government to pull back first, and then for the voluntary sector to arrive to fill the gap. This is also how the Tories (and their Lib Dem puppy-dogs) expect jobs to appear over the next year or so – as if by magic, the sacking of loads of public sector workers will create private sector demand. It’s voodoo economics and now they are trying to apply it to society

Thirdly, the government appear to be confused about what it means. As well as letting councils slash support for the very people who would be needed for the Big Society to work, central government are having a bonfire of the ‘quangos’. Some of those ‘quangos’ are also doing the sort of thing that the Big Society is supposed to be about, such as representing tenants.

I know that it’s only been a couple of months, but so far the Tories have already shown their hand when it comes to Health and Education. So as much as commentators and coalition groupies are asking us to be less cynical, I just can’t do it. I think that this idea is just a nice name and a good concept being used to cover the fact that the Tories are going to slash public services.

It is just a nice name. It’s like the “People’s Charter” of the Major “Back to Basics” years. Or the “Big Conversation” of 2005 (which was basically New Labour saying “after eight years of asking the Party what policies they want to see and ignoring them, we decided to open the process up to the whole country”).

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