Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Big Society

I have heard the term "Big Society" being bandied around as if it is the answer to everything. (I think it is the answer to nothing) Even our beloved BW has used the phrase from time to time and is hanging onto the coat tails of Cameron to come through with the goods. To be honest, I'm somewhat puzzled as to what the phrase "Big Society" actually represents. It seems to mean so many different things to different people. Maybe this is the panacea for all evils, or the cause of the verbal diarrhea of many MPs in the first place.

BS is also the way that the process is euphemistically described by many. Being another kind of BS, that involves bulls and excreta. Some acronym definitions for BS.
  • BS Bull Stuff
  • BS Bovine Scatology
  • BS Bowel Sounds
  • BS Blind Spot
  • BS Bart Simpson
  • BS Back Stab
  • BS Big Society

How accurate they are!

I read in the newspapers that public opinion is strongly divided as to whether "Big Society" is a meaningful policy or meaningless weasel words. I know that I am old and cynical, but I do remember back in 1993, a government heading for election meltdown. PM John Major's clarion call to the conservatives was "Back to Basics" something he possibly discussed in bed with his bit on the side Edwina. Back to Basics turned out to be a notoriously hypocritical policy that went some way to sealing Major and the conservatives fate.

Back to Basics was nonsense and turned out to be nothing more than a load of jingoistic claptrap. Soon afterward it all came crashing down in flames. The moment you start going for the moralistic high ground. You can put a large amount of wonga on at the bookies that sooner or later, some government minister gets caught with his pants dangling round his ankles. In that scenario getting "Back to the Basics" takes on a whole new meaning. 

We are already seeing significant U turns and pauses in policy change proposals. This does not bode well for the future of the inland waterways. When ministers are getting it so wrong in other areas.

Don't get me started on Thatcher's "There is no such thing as society" claptrap mantra.

PM David Cameron said at the BS launch "Today is the start of a deep and serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to people.That’s because we know instinctively that the state is often too inhuman, monolithic and clumsy to tackle our deepest social problems. We know that the best ideas come from the ground up, not the top down. We know that when you give people and communities more power over their lives, more power to come together and work together to make life better – great things happen."

Read the policy Here

The third sector is called the third sector, to identify it from the public sector and the private sector. There are however confusions within the terminology. The voluntary, community and not-for-personal profit sectors are frequently taken to comprise the "Third Sector" each of these sectors have quite different ethos. The community sector is assumed to comprise of unpaid volunteers, whilst the voluntary sector are considered to employ staff working for a social or community purpose.

Cameron however abolished the use of the phrase the Third Sector in Government. " I profoundly believe that if we want real social change – if we want to solve our deepest social problems, whether it’s drug abuse, whether it’s problems of poor housing, whether it’s problems of deep and entrenched poverty, whether it’s the problem of children in care – it’s going to be the voluntary sector, social enterprises no longer to be called ‘the third sector’, from now on that phrase is to be abolished. That's it then, the final solution. All we  need to do is abolish the phrase third sector and all of our problems are solved at a stroke.

Some people would recognise that promoting the "Big Society" or BS as it is better known. Could be a career threatening poison chalice for anyone who champions such a cause.

Nat Wei, Baron Wei or Lord Wei, for he sits in the House of Lords, was appointed as an adviser (head honcho)  to the government on the Big Society. He was based at the Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office. In February Baron Wei first reduced his working hours from three days a week to two. He explained that, "The idea was that I'd come on a paid basis, but because the quota for paid government advisers was full, at the last moment it turned out to be unpaid." If you are not prepared to fund a champion for the Big Society, what lies in store for the BS future. The future came in May, when Lord Wei announced his decision to step down from his role as Government Advisor on Big Society.

So why aren't activists and MPs cheering the Big Society from the rafters? 

MP Jo Johnson described it as "A kernel of a good idea trying to get out and no one can argue with the broad thrust of it, but up until now it's been a bit intangible and incomprehensible, making it an odd and unpersuasive theme to some people." Why am I getting feelings of  the Back to Basics furore and Deja Vu at the same time.

So what is on offer for the waterways from the new "Big Society"? Well, BW are still living in the land of big pensions for the top few and the world of the "Third Sector". See BW and "Third Sector Partnerships" on the BW website. The terminology confusingly refers to the paid part (voluntary) of the third sector. For recruiting volunteers which form part of the community sector. Its good to know that BW understand the difference.

Then BW published "Setting A New Course, Britain’s waterways in the third sector". So we know where they are and we know where Cameron and the Government are. So a year after Cameron abolished the phrase "Third Sector" as used to by everyone to describe the "Third Sector," BW have not picked up on that change yet.

So why abolish the term "Third Sector" when everyone and their dog understands what "Third Sector" means? The abolition allows the Government to re-define the non public and non private sector bits of society. Also to re-define where the bits now sit in the new "Big Society" hierarchy. Smoke and mirrors come to mind.

The Big Society should be about people taking responsibility and the best thing that BW can do is to remove obstacles to this. Take some responsibility for the endless waste of money spent on things like the square bollard projects.  To provide cover for volunteers for every kind of liabilities. But first of all start by listening to the waterways users not the words of government.  "Government by the people for the people" now where have I heard that before!

So how is the new waterways charity going to implement the "Big Society" for waterways users. A key concept of Big Society is management devolved down to the local level. I would imagine that devolving management autonomy down to this level is a no go area within BW.

  1. Who are the people who have the time and wherewithal to provide the volunteers?
  2. Where are the volunteers to participate in fund raising going to come from?
  3. How can the volunteers be held responsible for the devolved management?
  4. How can we identify the needs of the local area?
  5. How can we meet the needs of the local area?
  6. How can we ensure the maintaining and improvement of existing facilities?
  7. How can we ensure that it is done at a reasonable cost but also maintain quality levels?
  8. Is there a danger of the low cost option being the only option?
  9. How can we ensure total transparency in all things?
  10. How can we measure the improvement in services?

Yes, its "Taurus Excreta" that the government and BW are trying to "Confusit Cerebrum" with!


1 comment:

  1. Well said, the words chimps & tea party come to mind - and that's being too polite..

    Takey Tezey Heth

    Sorry having to post as anonymous, BS also stands for Blog Spot lol


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