Labour-run Liverpool City Council has announced it is pulling out of being Big Society Vanguard.
The concept was announced by David Cameron last July. He said:
Not long ago, four parts of our country – Eden Valley in Cumbria, Windsor and Maidenhead, Sutton and here in Liverpool – came to us and said: ‘we want more power and control. You’ve spoken about it long enough. Now give it to us’.
So that’s what we’re going to do.
These four vanguard communities will be the great training grounds of this change……the first territory on which real and ultra local power is a reality – and the Big Society is built.
They are all from very different places.
Rural, suburban, urban.
They’re led by different sorts of people.
Local MPs, councillors, big local leaders outside of politics like Phil Redmond.
And they’ve got different ideas.
From devolving budgets to street-level, to developing local transport services, taking over local assets such as a pub, piloting open-source planning, delivering broadband to local communities, generating their own energy……and here, in Liverpool, building a volunteer program so they can keep
local museums open for longer.
But they’ve all got one thing in common: a firm commitment from this Government to help them realise their dreams.
To help them, we will make available officials from the Department of Communities and Local Government.
If there’s a problem or obstacle or bureaucratic log-jam, they will be there, on hand, to help break them down and get things moving.
And we’ll also work with communities to help identify and fund a community organiser for each area.
These will be trained people who know how to stimulate and organise local support for – and involvement in – community action.
As these four areas move ahead with their plans, yes, there will be problems – financial problems, legal problems, bureaucratic problems.
Yes, there will be objections – local objections, objections from vested interests.
But you know what?
We’re happy about that.
This process is all about learning.
It’s about pushing power down and seeing what happens.
It’s about unearthing the problems as they come up on the ground and seeing how we can get round them.
No doubt there were some problems. Phil Redmond complained about the process being "too top down." Achieving reform and a change of culture in the public sector can be frustrating. I've got the scars on my back, etc.
But Redmond also says it would be "daft" for Liverpool to pull out:
“What I’ve always said is it puts the city in prime position to get what you need. You have
the vanguard badge and that gives you the chance to get some things moving. It would be bad for the city to give that up."
Yet that is just what the Council has done. They see a chance for a cheap headline blaming spending cuts. Yet the Big Society vanguard is about extra help from central Government not cost. They also must have known there would be spending cuts when they signed up. On December 7 the Council leader, Cllr Joe Anderson, chaired a meeting which agreed good progress was being made.
The real objection from Cllr Anderson seems to be over the seating arrangements when David Cameron spoke. He says:
When they arrived in Liverpool to launch it I had to sit in the audience in my own city. It was a disgrace.