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What is expected of local citizens

Emma Maier
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Big Society could epitomise the ‘more for less’ agenda.

Big Society could epitomise the ‘more for less’ agenda. People ‘doing it for themselves’ can provide better outcomes while at the same time reducing the need for ‘big government’ and public spending, so the theory goes.

But achieving that potential will be infinitely more difficult than the new government imagines. The public sector has struggled to work effectively with the organised voluntary sector on a large scale. Big Society focuses on civil society - the actions of individuals - which is amorphous, harder to control, impossible to contract with.

If we are to build the Big Society, local politicians must have a conversation with residents about what services councils can reasonably provide in these austere times

Emma Maier

A large part of Big Society focuses on volunteering. Attempts to promote volunteering (a citizen service scheme for teens, a Big Society Day, a volunteering inducement for civil servants) are laudable. But they do not tackle the great challenge of our time - lack of time. Even the Girl Guides has a shortage of adult volunteers.

Volunteering can undoubtedly add value to services, such as CSV’s family mentors, who support child protection work. But the bigger prize is increasing civic activity among even those with less time, whether it is looking out for an elderly neighbour or clearing snow from outside their house.

If we are to build the Big Society, local politicians must have a conversation with residents about what services councils can reasonably provide in these austere times, where the boundary between the state and individual responsibility lies and what is expected of local citizens.

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