The Big Society has been dragged over the coals in the last couple of weeks. First, Liverpool City Council made the headlines by pulling out of the Big Society pilot scheme. Then, Dame Elisabeth Hoodless claimed that budget cuts were undermining the government’s vision for the Big Society. Finally, Lord Wei ruffled feathers on his blog suggesting that local authority staff may work part time for they can get involved in their local community.
As a non-partisan organisation LGiU isn’t going to take a political position on the Big Society programme. However, we recognise that there are underlying realities that councils and communities are facing now, and that we need to support councils in working these through.
Councils have to find ways to make significant savings to their spending through innovations in their service delivery. Added to this, a huge piece of legislation is currently going through Parliament in the shape of the Localism Bill, which will give powers to fundamentally change how councils and communities operate.
To support councils in thinking through how these challenges will work in practice, the LGiU set up the Big Society learning network in November 2010. 19 authorities from across the country are members of this network, who met most recently last week to discuss challenges that they are currently grappling with. Namely, how can the fragmentary and bottom –up approaches of the Big Society complement and work alongside the strategic demands being placed on local authorities through initiatives like Total Place and Community Budgeting?
Delegates concluded that two approaches can work together – particularly by taking a ‘merged’ approach to the two agendas where the Big Society are brought into Community Budgeting and a more strategic approach is taken to planning Big Society initiatives. However, they also recognised that there are a series of issues that councils will need to address, such as the culture of councils, skills and capacity and structures for decision making in order to make this happen. These are issues that we will continue to work-through with councils.
More information about LGiU’s Big Society Learning Network, and the other learning networks that we organise, can be found through this link.