The Big Society disaster: a doomed and damaging policy

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Devastating report lashes into discredited UK government policy in a time of falling community spirit

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20th January 2015 by Graham Martin 1 Comment

The UK government’s so-called Big Society initiative has left the country more divided and more unaccountable with public services run by “quasi-monopolies”.

That’s the damning verdict from a leading third-sector think tank on Prime Minister David Cameron’s now sunk flagship policy.

A “final audit” into the policy – announced with great fanfare in 2010 – states that the Big Society has failed against its own stated aims.

Think tank Civil Exchange conducted a three-year investigation into the key coalition initiative, concluding it has caused societal harm.

The Big Society was supposed to empower communities, open up public services and stimulate social action.

It was trailed as the voluntary sector’s big moment – Cameron insisted service provision would be opened up, telling charities: “Come in and provide a great service”.

Instead it failed ignominiously, being buried by the government itself – its legacy a society where, across the UK, civic participation has actually gone down.

The study, called Whose Society? The Final Big Society Audit, sounds a warning for the next government, saying that it must be genuinely inclusive, target those most in need and harness the energy of the voluntary sector if the Big Society mistakes are not to be repeated.

The report’s author, Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, said: “Despite investment in the Big Society, it has largely failed. Our findings show that society is more divided than before, we feel less able to influence what happens in our communities and public services are, in some ways, less accountable and responsive to diverse needs.

“Many people may ask what happened to the Big Society? It was a key commitment of this government and they are entitled to know whether it worked, even though the government hardly mentions it now.

“The real question, however, is what happens next? Whatever name it goes under, the next government will continue to look for ways to give power back to people, to make services more responsive and to encourage local action.

“To do this successfully requires much better collaboration with local and voluntary groups, giving people a genuine stake in local decision making, reviewing the way we contract companies to deliver public services and making sure major businesses give back more to society.”

Whose Society? makes key recommendations for the next government including a shift in government and public sector culture to make it work far more collaboratively with civil society, a civil society led Commission on using existing resources to create a fairer society and a major review of public sector contracting, ensuring services work in the interests of those they mean to serve, particularly those whose needs are greatest.

23rd January 2015 by Edward Harkins

No surprises there fro many observers. There are, however, significant issues in all this for the many 'big names' in the third sector (and fellow travellers such as well-connected consultanancies) who so readily and precipitately supported the hype and rhetoric around this UK Government led project.It turns out that those of us who questioned the whole premise of Big Society from the outset and were decried as doomsters, negative, or failing on the vision thing... were indeed correct. Now on that whole 'investment' thing...