I’m trying to cover as many Big Society sessions on the Conservative Party Fringe as I can get too – not least looking for any clarity on what it might mean.
The first one was run by The Citizens Advice Bureau: Big Society on a Small Budget – can more really be done for less. Notes from a Conservative Party Conference session. The Panel Was Gillian Guy – Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Bureau, Damian Hinds – MP for East Hampshire, Therese Coffey – the MP for Suffolk Central and Michelle Smith, Head of UK Consumer and Community Affairs for Barclays UK Retail Bank and Barclays Corporate.
Sifting through my notes there were a number of things that struck me:
Gillian Guy from CAB explained the extent to which they use volunteers
12.5 million people helped on the web. 20,000 volunteers, already represent a good start to the big society. We want public services to be simpler and we want to the voluntary sector and communities to be trusted.
Damian Hinds outlined what he thought are the key elements which will underpin the Big Society…
- Language and the mood is important – as a government we need to show that we are turning to the right people for advice.
- Programme of devolution to local councils (when you devolve planning to individual councils you can take more interest)
- Direct empowerment, right to bid taking over a community facility
- Free schools programme, people now know that they could decide to make their own school
- Information revolution, open data the web. – there will be enough people in anyone location to hold power to account
- Big Society bank to provide extra finance
- Encouraging volunteering – government needs to get its employees out doing volunteering.
Therese Coffey – MP for Suffolk Central key thoughts included:
- We need to remove the mentality of the civil service culture.
- We need to ensure that government does get out of the way. Some aspects of the equalities act will hamper organisations trying to deliver the big society.
- De-complexify government. Need to provide some finance. Unemployed should be expected to go out and do some work in the voluntary sector.
- The National citizens service is over cautious.
- The other risk is there is a vacuum at the moment – can the third sector flesh out some of the vision please – don’t wait for the pilot areas.
Michelle Smith seem to catch the mood of the room when she talked with real passion about how the volunteering done by Barclays staff benefits neighbourhoods and the business and the staff. For example…
Half of our staff are actively involved in their communities on a regular basis. We match charitable giving and fund raising and provide time off . This improves staff retention and performance, staff who volunteer are A third more likely to be rated A performers than those who don’t.
Worth listening to this interview….