Cleaning up, Local Government and the Big Society


The wonderful side of London

As regular readers of this blog will know we often pre-write our posts and schedule them in to appear, as if by magic, as we commute into our respective offices. This has the advantage of them being available when people arrive at work and allows us to have evening’s doing things other than blogging.

The downside of this is that sometimes events overtake us and what we have prepared for the day is not really appropriate. Yesterday was one such day.

That being said, the fact that we didn’t have time to prepare anything riot specific on Monday night may have been a blessing in disguise. To be brutally honest I don’t think any of us would have had anything to say that would have added to a torrent of comment that was being produced by people far more qualified, and talented, than us. Between us we absorbed a lot yesterday but we all agreed that this piece by Toby Blume was worth a read and maybe slightly below the radar of some of the pieces in major newspapers etc that you may have already seen.

It was reported on the Sky News ticker at about 1pm on Tuesday afternoon that one of David Cameron’s top advisors (unnamed) had prepared a memo suggesting that the riots might be the best time to re-launch the Big Society.

It’s obviously strange timing but the unnamed advisor may have been about right. As London residents woke up to the carnage that had affected their local neighbourhoods small groups of concerned residents gathered together, got out their brooms and set off to clean up their neighbourhoods.

Nothing could be more uplifting than local people standing up to the rioters and basically saying that they will not be dominated by the violence and the chaos that follows. In many ways this was the Big Society in action. I for one thought it was an amazing statement.

However, these citizen cleaners were not alone in seeking to clean up their local areas. In Hackney local residents turned up to help only to be told that most of the work had already been done. In Ealing the council had a huge crew out from 5:30am so by the time offers of help started to come in the council was able to turn them away as most of the work had been done.

And here is the rub; the cleanup operation proved the success of both local government (and government in general) and society in general. The elected local governments were able to adjust the services they provide, on behalf of the people, to ensure that the worst of the damage was put right. Without this base level of competence, personal commitment from the staff involved and the logistical skills of the councils involved the clean up probably wouldn’t have been completed as soon as it was. Likewise, the support of society was able to send the sort of powerful message that local government alone couldn’t manage.

If we’ve learnt anything from this week’s, almost hysterical at times, calls for various politicians to return from their holidays it’s that we, as a society, still require politicians, politics, Government and all this entails. The last few days have shown that the Big Society cannot replace Government and nor should it. But Government, whether local or national, should not shun the society it is meant to serve.

The riots depressed me deeply; the response of local government and the public had exactly the opposite effect and long may it continue.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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4 Comments on “Cleaning up, Local Government and the Big Society”

  1. E9to5 Says:

    This is a great piece, in particular the line that “Government, whether local or national, should not shun the society it is meant to serve”. I think people turned out for the #riotcleanup for a variety of reasons, but all deserve gratitude regardless of whether their help was needed. I won’t go as far as to say this is a new relationship between council and citizen, but town halls need to remember that when people mobilise for a shared local cause this doesn’t always mean conflict or competition. (In regards to Ealing and Hackney- has a council ever been described before as “overefficient”? http://bit.ly/pG56SB)

  2. localgov Says:

    I see this as a real watershed moment, and indicative of a potential shift in the way we ask people to become involved. I would hazard a guess that most of those people who turned up would never want to sit through nine months worth of committee meetings and read mountains of papers, but are happy to do something practical on a one-off basis.

    If they are presented with another one-off opportunity they might then take that up as well; micro-volunteering in action.


  3. […] up and down the country showed the real value of councils and, despite a lot of media attention, the limitations of the Big Society in this context. Meanwhile we pondered the collapse of the councils corporate centre and got […]


  4. […] infrastructure. It was with some relief then that I was turned back to the light by reading this post by We Love Local Government, which saw the community stepping up and working with local councils as […]


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