Say what you like about the Big Society but if you want to see it in action take a visit to your local library.
In 2009/10 the annual CIPFA Libraries survey recorded that there were 17,550 library volunteers, in 2010/11 it was 21,494 and in 2011/12 it was 23,397. That has made a fantastic contribution to the library service. In many cases volunteers have taken over libraries which councils could not afford to keep going – the result has been longer opening hours, more visitors and books being read.
There have been some library closures (overwhelmingly under Labour councils.) But also new libraries opening (usually under the Conservatives.) In total the number of libraries is down but often it is small or mobile libraries closing and big libraries opening. Spending is down by 10% over the last couple of years to under a billion pounds. But much of that saving has come in back office costs.
While there have been well publicised areas of decline, such as Brent, overall the library service is being enhanced while the cost is being reduced. Volunteering is a vital component in this being possible.
Does this prove the Big Society is working? Not on its own. But then it is not the only sign. In 2010 there were 15,505 Special Constables. In 2011 it was 18,421. As of March 31st this year it was 20,343.These are real police officers, they wear uniform, have the power to arrest people and are out on the front line. They should be included in figure on the numbers of serving police officers.
In different ways, given a nudge, more of us our doing our bit.