My Adventures in the Big Society

15 February 2011

I was invited to Somerset House on the Strand yesterday as part of the Big Society
Network to watch David Cameron take questions for the best part of an hour on his pet subject. My organisation, New Deal of the Mind, has been helping deliver two welfare-to-work contracts since
last year and, along with most people in what I have learned to call “the third sector” I am prepared to give this idea the benefit of the doubt. There doesn’t seem to be anything
particularly ideological about the Big Society, although Ed Miliband showed in his Independent on Sunday article at the weekend just how convenient a
whipping boy this has become for Labour

You can’t blame Ed Miliband for his cynicism. The architects of the Big Society within government have not communicated their ideas well and David Cameron should certainly stop using examples
from his Oxfordshire constituency to illustrate a concept that will only succeed if it transforms lives north of Witney. However, others in the Labour Party (Jon Cruddas and David Lammy, for
instance) recognise that the left will soon have to develop its own version of the Big Society.

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It seems the more words that are expended on explaining the Big Society, the more mystified the public becomes. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister made a valiant effort in the pages of The Observer.

Phillip Blond over at the ResPublica has made it his mission to evangelise on this subject and has been prepared to go where Conservative ministers fear to tread. He squared up against Tessa Jowell
last week and he has been all over the airwaves again over the past 24 hours.

However, to my mind, the issue for The Big Society was summed up best, not in an article, but in a tweet from Phillip’s colleague at ResPublica Indy Johar. On Sunday he said this:
“Insufficiently discussed – But #BigSociety equally needs to be about rolling back the corporates as the centralised state.” I couldn’t agree more. The reality is that there is a
real risk the Big Society will become colonised by large private sector service companies such as Serco, G4S and A4E who stand to make a lot of money from government. Nothing wrong with this, in
principle, if they deliver the services more cheaply and effectively. Voluntary organisations and social enterprises across the country are already preparing themselves for the new world where they
will have to establish partnerships with these giant organisations in order to survive.

Yesterday I asked David Cameron what he is doing to stop the Big Society being strangled at birth by corporate interests. He told me he understood the problem. I look forward to hearing how he
plans to unpick this fundamental conundrum.

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Show comments
  • Gary D Chance

    @Ian Walker You wouldn’t want a volunteer Fire Brigade in London. A coastguard rescued a nuclear sub last October, two RAF pilots a couple weeks ago, helped search for their RAF Tornado in the sea and sped to the rescue of the crew of the sunken WWII minesweeper in Plymouth. Some jobs the RNLI can do and some the coastguard. Each has its role and fully trained people dedicated to service. The same is true of the ambulance services.

    This is not true of a tenant management charity for social housing staffed by volunteers without any expertise who have a vested self-interest that they can and do indulge. I’ve watched abusive personalities drive the emergency services into the ground by 1,000s of false calls for their own power and abuse objectives. No amount of reporting on my part changed this.

    What is lacking is an intense development of what should and should not be undertaken based upon needs, financing and available qualified people. The Fire Brigade is useless if the failed tenant management charity creates a fire risk that results in the destruction of a building. The police and ambulance services are useless for public service elsewhere each and every time they are called to respond to a faked emergency because an abusive personality seeks revenge and retaliation against someone. They and the public are put at risk too by the necessary fast response.

    The Big Society will reinforce and feed this abuse not abate it. I’ve watched it develop, and no amount of communication will stop those who are entrapped in the abuse syndrome whether it be government services or the private abusers. The waste and risk are enormous and reflect the problem that needs to addressed. The Big Society will not do so because it has not done so. Outstanding government management is needed, and that does not exist. The Big Society will not provide it. It is not the answer. It is the problem.

  • Gary D Chance

    @David Bouvier A falling out? The wider issue? You have not seen my earlier post on this matter a couple days ago nor my extensive public commentary on the Internet. This is no fault of yours. What I said here could not be expanded. I used a specific as a universal example.

    The surveillance technology in the hands of the child abusers I reported in May 1998 has been in full operation for 12.5+ years 24/7/365 since August 1998 joined in February 2001 by US Marine/US gov agent/contractors with the most sophisticated surveillance technology you could possibly imagine and then some. This is the universal. A country that allows such a thing to occur is not a democracy but a tyranny.

    I have never had anything to do with the management committee in my entire 15 years of residency. I learned early on that they lied, punished people and generally connived to act in their self interest in a repeating pattern that put thousands of people’s lives at risk. They want to hide all of this so they can go on doing it. Such people when their power is threatened resort to murder.

    My statements were general in character noting one specific example. The sad aspect is that when anyone has tried to report institutionalised abuse, they have been targeted in devastating ways. The great problem here is that this surveillance will soon be used on a more wide spread basis than it already is because it’s growing from abusers multiplying in the Big Society which deliberately feeds that kind of personality which was my point.

  • Ian Walker

    I’ve been thinking of organisations that already exist in the Big Society mould, and the St John’s Ambulance and RNLI both spring to mind – a vital public service, provided by a charity, totally devoid of government funding and staffed mostly by volunteers.

    I would very much like to see the NHS and the CoastGuard give estimates as to how much public money it would cost to provide a similar service.

  • David Bouvier

    Gsry D Chance – I assume the “person” abused is you and you have had a major failling out with your management committee.

    This is unlikely to have very much to say on the wider point. Are you the new incarnation of the Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University?

  • raymond jones

    We cant have a big society with giant companies.The wealth of Business ownership has to be spread we need small and medium, if not all you will have is a big slave society,that lives of crumbs from the Giants.

  • Gary D Chance

    The Big Society changes the currency of corruption from money to power. The same character types will barter power at the local level as did those who bartered money in the corporate entities. The result will be the same: failure. The problem is that once turned loose the Big Society will be out of control. Decentralising power will lead to the rise of power for its own sake as a medium of exchange where wealth has disappeared.

    I have lived in a Big Society pilot project for almost 15 years. This estate is managed by a charity reflecting tenant management. I’ve just sent a very long Email to a wide range of people showing the failure of the Big Society here. In summary here’s what I’ve said about the local tenants engaged in their local power. They

    1) abused their power by seeking to have everyone serve their self interest against the construction of an Academy school that had no impact on most of the people by making misrepresentations while failing to manage the Estate;

    2) allowed extreme surveillance technology abuse to occur against a person seeking to reveal what was happening in order to silence, discredit and seek to remove him from his home; and

    3) sought to reward those who carried out the surveillance abuse with positions of power in the tenant management organisation by allowing such abuse to rig elections, further the abuse of power and carry out destructive behaviour against the person seeking to speak the truth as an example for others to intimidate them out of fear into silence and obedience.

    This reflects a stream of unlawful and criminal acts over many years which will be the legacy of the Big Society if it is allowed to continue Big Society will become Big Brother far beyond anything George Orwell could have imagined.

    David Cameron is not being honest with the British public which is reflected in the paucity of information coming out of Number Ten. If there was full information and knowledge, the Big Society would not fly.

    Where’s the transparency Mr Cameron boasts about desiring in government? It will be the first victim of the Big Society. We will be encouraged to believe in Big Brother with full support and obedience or suffer the consequences as has occurred to me for over a decade.

  • In2minds

    @Erica Blair – February 15th, 2011 1:21pm –

    “I think you’ll find it’s called Socialism” –
    Ooh I like that, really witty!

  • Erica Blair

    ‘However, others in the Labour Party (Jon Cruddas and David Lammy, for instance) recognise that the left will soon have to develop its own version of the Big Society.’

    I think you’ll find it’s called Socialism.

  • Simon Stephenson

    “The reality is that there is a real risk the Big Society will become colonised by large private sector service companies such as Serco, G4S and A4E who stand to make a lot of money from government. Nothing wrong with this, in principle, if they deliver the services more cheaply and effectively.”

    Heavens, no, Martin. Being able to boast of greater economy or effectiveness than the public sector is no boast at all. What needs to happen is that there are enough private providers for them to be forced to focus on the quality of outcomes; to compete; to do more than just look over their shoulders to ensure they have in place the same processes as the other members of the oligopoly.

    Without the fear of being surpassed, all we end up with is the same self-serving tendencies as we have in public sector organisations.

  • Anthony Makara

    The likes of SERCO have been pimping off the state’s problems and are, in fact, the problem, rather than the solution.

    We only have to look to the Billions wasted during Labour’s attempt to impose Welfare-to-Work by delegating the methods for doing so to the likes of SERCO et al, to see how SECRO-type bodies can milk the taxpayer dry, with little by way of return in concrete results.

    The Big Society, if it is to work, has to bypass State-Proxy bodies like SERCO. It has to become a genuine grassroots movement by which families take responsibility for, and look after their own. In which small local and autonomous community groups can apply for and deliver social services.

    Where collective financial incentive exists, bodies like SERCO will be quick at hand to pimp off the State and the social problems it is trying to resolve.

    The Big Society must become the kiss-of-death to the Big Government by proxy, as carried out by groups like SERCO.

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