Far from being worried by the actions of Liverpool Council in “pulling out” of the Big Society, work continues apace in Windsor and Maidenhead.
Our volunteering levels are sharply increased, and the number of enquiries at our volunteer centre has reached a new record. Our coordinator says “We are absolutely delighted to be so busy with people wanting to help in the community”.
Our vanguard activities extend to government transparency, now publishing our income as well as our expenditure. The push to make available incentives – nudges in the right direction – in the volunteering sector as well as improving the networks throughout our voluntary sector are being boosted by our Big Society events. We’re also a neighbourhood planning vanguard and are seeking devolution of powers to our Parish councils.
So, far from spreading gloom driven by a short-sighted political agenda, we have been playing our part as a vanguard authority for the greater good, despite a difficult public spending environment.
We have spending reductions too, with millions of pounds being removed from our budgets. But we’re protecting libraries and the voluntary sector, as well as providing for growth in adult and childrens services.
In real terms, local government budgets have reduced back to around 2004/5 levels. Some, including the LGA have described this as the toughest settlement in living memory – that is technically true for the under 7s !
Fundamentally, it should not be the role of the taxpayer through government to be the bedrock of funding for voluntary and charitable organisations. As has been pointed out, the RNLI – the successful and independent coastal emergency service – remains outside the public sector, and they do not wish to be on the government payroll either.
Ed Balls simply doesn’t get it when he repeats that “government money is needed to make a voluntary civic society work”. But then Labour’s Shadow Chancellors have a track record of not understanding the
It is inevitable that those whose jobs and functions are dependent on getting a government cheque will inevitably shout when public funds become scarce. But the principles of the Big Society are where the individual and communities do not feel small; it is certainly not more Big Government that delivers a Big Society.