Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’
The Big Society seems to be disappearing from political rhetoric these days, but in Kensal Rise, as local people come to terms with key cuts in public services, we’re witnessing an example of citizen-power in action.
Following the decision to close the Kensal Rise Library over two months ago, local residents have been out in force to campaign for volunteers to run the library and to attract donations for additional books and IT services.
Determined to keep a local library service, local volunteers have organised a ‘pop-up’ library, with further plans to transform the old library building into a social hub at the heart of the community – also staffed by volunteers.
Frankly, I’m absolutely in awe of the small group of committed people who believe in their local library service, and are doing all they can to defend and protect it. However, the key question I keep returning to is the issue of sustainability. What happens when the good will of a small group of volunteers runs out?
Is goodwill enough?
It’s clear that the local council is not prepared to back down on its decision to close the library. Instead, it appears that it is relying on community members to step forward and fill the gaps in key public services. Of course, it’s possible to argue that volunteers have been doing this for decades – centuries even – filling gaps in public services. So what’s new?
Well, it seems to me that what’s new in all of this is the shockingly erroneous assumption that underpins the citizen-power agenda – that volunteering is a cost-free alternative to publicly funded services. Supporting volunteers to deliver high quality public services requires co-ordination, training, support, good governance – as well as every day travel and subsistence expenses for the committed individuals who give their time to keep valuable services open and accessible to their communities. Assuming that all of this can be delivered for free, ad-infinitum, is a huge mistake and one that will see the goodwill, time and talents of local people eventually run out.
David Cameron has said that he wants people to come out and reclaim these services for themselves. But unless this activity is properly resourced and supported, it’s unlikely to be sustained in the long term, and may ultimately have the reverse effect, as volunteers become disillusioned and withdraw their support.
Here at vinspired, we’re particularly concerned about high levels of youth unemployment, and we’ve already made a compelling case for renewed investment in high quality, structured volunteering programmes which enable young people to develop their skills and experience, whilst helping to deliver key public services. We have experience of delivering long term volunteering programmes such as vtalent year and 24 /24. These programmes provide an important contribution to this agenda, enabling young people to undertake 6 – 9 month placements in local councils, supporting the delivery of education, leisure and library services.
Creative thinking on the part of government could turn a youth unemployment crisis into an innovative public service volunteering programme. So, pick up the phone Dave – we’re waiting for your call.
Well what a week! It started off with v20 and I attending a Big Society Network event at Somerset House to hear the Prime Minister, David Cameron, mount a robust defence of his Big Society idea following a couple of stormy weeks on the subject. Then off to Age UK to talk about how we might work together to help achieve some of their objectives through youth social action. Then off to a meeting with the Rank Foundation to explore the possibility of a new programme for young volunteers. Then, our regular catch-up with Volunteering England to share perspectives on how the land lies.
I had a very rewarding discussion with SSAT (Special Schools and Academies Trust) about how we might together extend volunteering and social action within schools. I’d really love this to happen. We also discussed tweaking the vinspired awards online to make them even more accessible and we’re looking at the potential and usefulness of accreditation. On a lighter note I took my Director of Programmes, Rena Sodhi, for a drink since she’s leaving to take up the role of Chief Executive of Safer London having done a great job for v.
We organised a roundtable discussion on Wednesday morning on the subject of employee volunteering with big companies like Sky and Enterprise sharing experiences of their respective programmes. It was chaired by journalist Peter Crush of HR Magazine, included the IOD and was most insightful. Wednesday also brought me a timely reminder that no matter how balanced your contribution journalists pick and choose from what you say to support the angle they want to portray! C’est la vie.
On Thursday at Peabody’s London Wellbeing Conference I shared the platform with Lord Wei, Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation and Alison Ogden-Newton from Social Enterprise London. I always learn something new at these sorts of things and social housing presents a really interesting context in which to engage volunteers. I also met the wonderful Baroness Newlove so I look forward to continuing our dialogue. In the evening I attended the Co-operative’s launch of their radical new CSR programme with a strand of ‘Inspiring Young People’. Such powerful speakers as Jonathon Porritt of Forum for the Future and Harriet Lamb of the Fair Trade Foundation contributed to a brilliant evening and this is an excellent example of a big business taking CSR seriously.
Whilst all this is going on so too is our reorganisation to reduce costs, our drawing to a close all our current funded programmes and our continuing drive to secure investment in youth volunteering! It couldn’t be done without great people.
Friday was a wonderful day. A meeting with our Chairman, Rod Aldridge, led to a really, really big idea to help young people during this period of high unemployment and lost opportunity. I’m really excited about it and will do all in my power to make it happen as v moves towards v2.0. On this high then I proceeded with Kevin Spacey and a young volunteer to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister and for the Old Vic Tunnels to receive a Big Society Award for their youth volunteering programme (the third v supported project to do so). I loved driving through the gates of Number Ten in Kevin Spacey’s 1986 Granada! It was a lovely visit and I even saw the picture on the PM’s phone of the famous mouse spotted in his flat and we were introduced to the new cat whose job it is to keep the mouse at bay! Well done to the Old Vic Tunnels, your recognition is well deserved.
Well, yesterday I and a few v20 heard from the man himself why he is recommitting to his Big Society idea. After the furore of last week speculators half expected, half hoped that the Prime Minister would jack it all in and admit it was a big mistake. Far from it. What we witnessed was a strong defence of his big idea and an even stronger defence against the argument that it is all just a cover for cuts.
It is absolutely true that David Cameron was committed to his big society ideal long before he became Prime Minister. It is equally true that he involved voluntary sector organisations in the formation of his youth flagship National Citizens Service and it is also true that he tried and tested this prior to implementation. He made it clear that power is best held in the hands of citizens. So, how come he is being vilified for doing what he said he would do?
The answer lies in what has really changed here since it’s not the man himself. It is of course the context. It is a fact that we need to reduce the deficit so that in the long term we may all prosper. That means, pain for many and I don’t agree that the voluntary sector should be immune from this. As always, the devil is in the doing.
Currently, nationally funded Programmes that encourage volunteering, and on which small frontline organisations depend, are coming to an end next month. Local Authorities have to cut spending by 28% in 4 years so that reduces funding from that source. There is wholesale change in the education sector, massive change in the health service, rising inflation, increased taxation, rising unemployment, rising numbers of young people not in education, employment or training, rising costs in Higher Education and fewer incentives and opportunities to keep the young in gainful occupation. I could go on.
The context has most definitely changed since David Cameron first articulated his ideals on Big Society. He now leads the Coalition Government with its many calls for matters to be attended to resulting in multiple strands of ‘change’ and they’re all coming together to affect perception, outlook, goodwill and reality. What I see forming is a perfect storm and I truly hope I’m wrong.
If you’re aged 16-25, have your say about Big Society on Big Society’s Big Mouth.