David Cameron recently admitted to The Telegraph that he was frustrated that his big idea of social responsibility hadn’t really taken off.  The Tory leader had another go at explaining the idea yesterday – in a speech to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.  Although the speech was focused on his wish to deliver a shift from state welfare to social welfare he spent some time explaining that he had no intention of dismantling what most voters see as the benefits of state welfare:

  • "Universal education" and "universal healthcare" were "great steps forward", he insisted, and they "must never be reversed".
  • There would be no cut-price welfare, either: "With a Conservative government, spending on public services will rise. We will share the proceeds of growth between lower taxes and more public spending."
  • Mr Cameron also reassured people that there would be no retreat from state provision until the voluntary sector was ready to take its place: "Our motivation is not simply an arid desire to roll back the frontiers of the state. It is a mission richer and more rewarding than that: to roll forward the frontiers of society. To empower – and, yes, to fund – more social organisations in the work they do. Not to force new work on voluntary bodies – but to give them a "right to supply" where they can do a better job than government."

David Cameron also offered four reasons to discount the objection that voluntary sector provision would produce a postcode lottery with very different service standards across the country:

  1. There already is a postcode lottery despite the existing centralisation of services and he pointed to inequalities under the NHS.
  2. The freedom and innovation produced by a vibrant social enterprise sector will not just raise standards but it will eliminate the worst forms of inequality as social entrepreneurs freely transfer good practice across the country.
  3. Expert commissioning of services will ensure consistency and improvement.
  4. Basic standards for outcomes and access will still be set by the state and he cited Service Level Agreements and Public Service Agreements as models.

The speech contained some hints of policy direction.  Mr Cameron promised less stringent reporting requirements for small voluntary organisations and measures to ensure full cost recovery.  He also said that matched funding might be one way of reducing the danger that public funding of voluntary organisations leads to them losing their independence and distinctiveness.  ConservativeHome notes a few ideas here that might stop free charities from becoming functionaries of the state.

Webcameron: David Cameron discusses his speech

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