Posted tagged ‘Big Society’

Is Cold Turkey the Answer?

September 20, 2010

Derren Brown once did a TV show where he got a poor young girl to electrocute a kitten in a box, just by telling her not to do it.  Well, I say electrocute, of course it wasn’t real but she wasn’t to know this.  All he did was strip back a few layers of personality from her and tell her not to press the button or the kitten would fry.

Well, recently I saw this in action local government style.  I was sat in a meeting with people from all over London, listening to a presentation from DCLG on the Big Society.  It was a very interesting talk, and showed a few glimpses of what the future may or may not hold for us over the next 18 months or so.

After listening for a bit we got to the questions and answers stage, which is where things got amusing.  One of my colleagues asked about targets for the Big Society; how will we know if it is a success.  They wanted to know what numbers they should be hitting, how the measurements should be done and what indicators might flag a successful or failing authority.

The response she received was simple: there will be no targets.  No indicators, no percentage increases, no RAG reports – nothing.  The only measure or not as to whether it succeeds will be whether the current government gets re-elected next time around. (more…)

Big Society

September 1, 2010

Rumour reaches me that the Big Society Group chaired by Eric Pickles is known within Government circles as the BS Group…

This is done apparently 100% without irony and as a means of keeping communication short and relevant.

BS Group… Really… Did no-one stop and think a few times before allowing that to enter the Government lexicon? Or maybe those that realised felt it was an appropriate moniker…

I’m still a Big Society optimist so I’ll leave it to the more cynical amongst us to make that judgement…

If only BP felt this way

August 30, 2010

I love a good cup of coffee.  If I can’t get it freshly ground from the finest beans and served as strong as Hulk Hogan and hot as Megan Fox, I’ll just as easily accept it the other way around.

I regularly put my hand up to make a cup, and offer to make one for colleagues which often results in me carrying a handful of mugs of steaming hot liquid of various descriptions.

Recently I was in such a situation when I found my hands growing rapidly warmer.  I had only started on my journey and had made it as far as some stone-type flooring before hitting the office proper when I could take it no more, and promptly turned rapidly around and made my way back to the kitchen, spilling a little in the process. (more…)

Decentralisation – 1

August 25, 2010

The world of local government is about to change. 

Many of these changes might be characterised as negative; for example, the need to make substantial savings has single-handedly engendered a sense of panic within councils everywhere and left many worrying about the effect of these cuts on council services. 

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister: Less power please


However, some of these changes could will have a major effect on local government but at the moment we don’t know what the effect will be and whether it will be positive or negative. Of these changes the major shift might just be the ‘Big Society’ and the accompanying policy of decentralisation. 

For those wondering exactly what this might mean for local government you can do worse than read a speech by Greg Clark given in July this year. The speech is here but the key passage is probably this: 

As well as this three-fold explanation of what the Big Society is, the Prime Minister also set out the three basic methods by which government can act to build it up: 

These are decentralisation, transparency and a third category that I’m going to refer to as social finance. 

Again, these are intertwined, but also readily distinguished. 

Transparency is about the redistribution of knowledge: The state must stop withholding information that would allow a much wider range of actors to identify social needs and propose new ways of meeting them. 

Social finance is about the redistribution of money and other assets. Instead of passing down through layers of absorbent bureaucracy, public funds should get straight through to wherever and whoever can use them most effectively. This means contestable contracts, payment by results and a revolution in the availability of upfront investment for social purposes. It also means communities having the right to save, run and own buildings and other under-used assets for social purposes when they could do that job best. 

Of course, there’s no point in making information and funding available to new providers of social goods, if they aren’t allowed to use them in new ways. Thus the third and most fundamental building block of the Big Society is decentralisation, which is, of course, about the redistribution of power

I know this is a long quote but I think the direction of travel is important here. My reading of this, and I am probably in a minority with this position, is that the Government is acting out of a deep conviction and commitment to decentralisation. Not only do they believe that decentralisation is one way to improve the quality of our public services but they go further. I would argue that the Government (and by this I mean both parties within it) believe that decentralisation is the right thing to do ideologically. 

If is the case then the key task for local authorities is not just to work out where decentralisation can deliver better public services, or even to lobby for more powers to be passed to local Government, but to work out how local authorities can operate in a world where power is increasingly pushed downwards. 

This poses a lot of challenges, not least because authorities have been used to towing the Government line and, to coin a phrase, ‘feeding the beast’ for years. 

I want to write more on this in the coming weeks but would also welcome your thoughts and comments: Am I right that the Government are fully committed to decentralisation as a concept rather than as a tool? How can local government deal with this? Is Local Government going to be jumped by a commitment to pass power to the lowest possible level, as it has with school’s policy?