The Big Society lives. For a while during the election campaign it looked as if David Cameron was quietly dropping his flagship concept but it emerged alive and well in the Queen’s Speech.
The Decentralisation and Localism Bill would give communities the powers to take over services, buy assets and influence planning.
This offers citizens an opportunity to be more involved in shaping the places in which they live and the services they use - a grassroots re-invigoration of civil society.
This is vital. The changing nature of the challenges we face, from climate change to an ageing society, means government will need to work with citizens to achieve collaborative solutions.
Of course questions remain. How can we motivate communities to take up these opportunities? How will we ensure they are properly accountable? The government will want to achieve this without reintroducing the deadening hand of the Big State with targets and bureaucracy.
We will also need to think how Big Society initiatives will interact with the formal governance and service delivery functions of local government. This is particularly important because the relationship with local government could be the key to the Big Society’s success.
Who better to catalyse the new politics than the network of more than 20,000 local councillors? As unpaid volunteers giving up more than 20 hours a week, they are the Big Society in action.
For many councillors this will require rethinking their role, seeing themselves less as Burkean representatives of the people and more as community facilitators, who inspire action and ensure accountability.
Similarly, local government will have to look hard at its processes. Too often it hampers community initiatives through over-restrictive application of rules, for example around street closures or public liability insurance.
It will have to judge when to step up and when to step out of the way.
The Big Society will emerge naturally as people take advantage of new powers. But if we are to achieve the Biggest Society, councils will be crucial. They have a peerless capacity to nurture the emergence of a citizen-led politics.
Jonathan Carr-West is head of centre for local democracy, LGiU