Acareo Ltd

Focusing on the main thing!

Big Society – Your Community Needs You!

People who know me know I am Chair of Governors at a local primary school. I guess that makes me a non-paid up member of the Big Society already! Being a volunteer comes naturally to me – I am not one for sitting in the background moaning so I get off my backside and do something about it instead. Chairing a school governing body is an honour and a privilige and comes with some serious responsibilities ensuring proper care and education for the most valuable asset of the human race – our children. One of my biggest challenges has been ensuring a full compliment of governors and that committees are quorate – getting people to volunteer their precious time is not an easy task, even where it is the future of their own children at stake. That being said, governors are the biggest volunteer force in the country and we get zero financial reward, not even expenses. Those of us who do it do so because we are passionate about education and child protection. Parent governors have a vested interest, community governors are welcome for their fields of expertise, LEA appointed governors bring their experience of political office – and I am fortunate to say in my case no small amount of power and influence as the leader of the local council chairs my finance committee! The point being that getting people to volunteer is never easy. In my community is all too often the same faces on the governing bodies, parish council, local authority and pressure groups (we had a huge campaign against a propose quarry in the village recently).
Cuts aside, there is much about the coalition agenda to be admired, certainly the ambition for more of us to be community minded. However, there are also huge barriers to changing our predominantly apathetic society into David Cameron’s vision of a Big Society. Those who manage change for a living will know that there is nothing harder in management than introducing change to a largely sceptical workforce – imagine trying to do that on a nationwide scale to an apathetic nation wound up by an overtly critcial press core? Already the Prime Minister is coming up against a raft of “doom merchants” in the shape of the BMA opposition to the NHS reforms, police chiefs warning about increases in crime levels if police budgets are cut, unions arguing that its all about public services on the cheap without public servants and charity workers warning that if council funding disappears so do they.
The PM relaunched the Big Society agenda through his closing speech to the Conservative Party Conference – “your country needs you” he rallied calling for people to step up and particiapte in society. He will need to get the sceptics on board quickly and that will be no mean acheivement if he succeeds at that level alone. If, having got the sceptics onside, he actually manages to deliver on Big Society that will be some achievement. If he fails it may well be because the predominant way that the public sector saves money is by shedding staff and a nation of unemployed civil and public servants saying “stuff your big Society, I’ve lost my job because of it”. Quite simply for Big Society to work the public sector needs to get smarter about how it spends and saves money. As for the government it needs to recognise that stopping public spending absolutely (which is what has happened in the last few months in the lead up to 20th October) will only serve to cripple the private sector that supplies government with goods and services. Labour gave out some basic training with the modernisation agenda, the coalition are playing hardball; the public sector needs to respond innovatively with clarity of purpose and not just chop the salami.


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