As the Big Society idea crumbles throughout the country it is time for Suffolk County Council to reconsider its local version, the New Strategic Direction.
David Cameron’s big society idea seems to be petering out. Lord Wei who volunteered to be in charge of implementing it announced this week that he has returned to working his agreed hours. He needs to earn more money and have “more of a life”.
And Phil Redmond, creator of Brookside, who was put in charge of the “vanguard” scheme in Liverpool where Cameron launched the Big Society, says it has been “subsumed by the cuts” and little progress had been made.
There is news of “devastation” of the Citizens Advice Bureau network, which has long relied on volunteers, with offices being forced to close by cuts in funding.
And today the thing Prime Ministers fear most has happened. The Sun today (Feb 3) splashes the report a survey carried out for the paper which says almost three people in five think it is a smokescreen to cover up the effects of the cuts.
And the serious right-of-centre Spectator says, “…even the Big Society’s most ardent advocates recognise that they may have to restrain their ambitions.’
Wall Street Journal Europe deputy editor Iain Martin writes in his blog:
Many hard-working Britons will know how he [Lord Wei] feels, although they may not necessarily sympathize. The prime minister’s speech to Tory conference in the autumn was a hymn to the Big Society. He encouraged, demanded, that his fellow Britons get up off their backsides and go mend that leaky roof in the youth center at the end of their road. The clips of the speech played on the evening news came across a little bossy and hectoring. Cameron seemed to be implying that millions of people who had come in from a busy day at work with only a pile of ironing to look forward to needed to jolly well pull their socks up.
Since then all has not been well in the Big Society household.
In Suffolk it is time to think again about the New Strategic Direction, which is the Big Society by another name. Chief executive Andrea Hill used the words “bigger society” seven times in her presentation of the NSD.
Clearly the people of Suffolk are confused by the New Strategic Direction being introduced at the same time as the cuts to services resulting from Government spending reductions.
There is much to debate about the NSD, with its emphasis on divesting services to volunteers, charities and social enterprises, but forcing it through at this time is undermining democracy in the county.
It has been badly presented to the voters and pushed through without any real debate. With the spending cuts it will be impossible to deliver.