Archive for the ‘Quangos Bonfire’ Category

Big Society Debate

Jeudi, mars 10th, 2011

The Big Society could be perceived as part of an overall government policy to push back the power and associated cost of the state, and which can help to fill the resulting services shortfall through more privately funded or voluntary initiatives.
The selection of comments below on the Big Society (see also Categories/Chairmans Blog/Big Society in the right hand index column) add to the debate on a concept which seems yet to gain traction in the minds of the British public perhaps due to a lack of clarity and convincing argument from the government. How does the concept differ from what already happens naturally in civil society through the voluntary and charitable sectors for example and also in the past when people had to organise themselves through e.g. co-operatives, friendly societies, unions etc.? Does the initiative of Jeremy Hunt, Minister of Culture, in seeking philanthropists to contribute to the shortfall in the Arts budget fall under the Big Society? Following on from the comments of the Archbishop of Westminster below, the Church has certainly played an even larger role in the past when religious belief had greater influence on society e.g. in education, Quaker businessmen etc. How essential is a successful Big Society to the need to cut the central government budget e.g. for education and health? With the basic idea appearing to be the devolving of power from central government to local council level and below, also presumably involving the transfer of related costs from central budget to local government/ council tax or the private sector at the same time, how can central government be held accountable other than at the ballot box, if it cannot control the outcome?
The National Citizen Service (NCS) proposed by David Cameron can form part of the overall narrative in encouraging 16-year-olds to spend their summer after leaving school doing voluntary residential placement. Charities, social enterprises and private firms would then be invited to apply to the government to become providers of placements. Although this is already criticised as only likely to interest the middle class and motivated teenagers, it does serve to illustrate the key value of self-reliance which underlies the concept of the Big Society and is generally shared by this part of the community.
The unions are wary of the concept and hostile to the voluntary sector with its do-it-yourself attitude, accusing it of lack of capability and taking jobs from the public sector. Protesters have already occupied the council chamber in Lambeth Town Hall Brixton south London, where the local authority has a radical plan to become the first cooperative council in Britain with services provided by voluntary groups wherever possible.
Small Business comment to our www.conservatives-paris.org blog:
• As the Big Society idea of David Cameron looks like coming apart already because of government cuts, he’s lining it up to get government funding. I mean, why make cuts in the first place?
Archbishop of Westminster speaking at LSE (as reported in the Times, 4th March 2011):
• The religious contribution to the renewal of civil society is more significant than had been thought. How we achieve this renewal is a good moral question at the heart of the idea of the Big Society. The debate opened up by David Cameron under the uneasy title of the Big Society is indeed a big one, for it invites us to ask what the purpose of society actually is, and that in turn depends on an understanding of what it is to be human. This is an important debate for our society to have, and it is a different debate from the other necessary debate about public expenditure.
Francis Maud, Cabinet Office Minister giving evidence to Commons Public Administration Select Committee (as reported in same Times article as above):
• Implementation of the Big Society programme will be untidy (neither chaos nor tidy) and difficult to plan. There will be a different pattern in different parts of the country. The idea is to devolve power to charities, voluntary organisations and businesses while retaining accountability. Although there will be lines of accountability to the centre, the government could no longer be responsible for every school and hospital.

Quangos Bonfire

Mardi, février 8th, 2011

Before the election there was much Conservative party talk of a policy which was finally announced in government last October as a Bonfire of the Quangos (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations), aimed at abolishing 192 Quangos to save money (£1 billion was the target) and reduce the associated bureaucracy.
However, a report by the Commons Public Administration Committee issued in January 2011 has concluded that it could take over 10 years to make significant savings due to existing contractual commitments and rental leases. The Conservative Chairman of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin, views it also as a wasted opportunity to help build the Big Society (See Categories/Chairman’s Blog/Big Society in the right hand index column). He thinks that the responsibilities of an additional 118 Quangos which have been merged mostly into existing government departments, would have been better transferred instead to e.g. charities or mutual organisations, which would in turn have provided much more clearly identified public bodies for stakeholders and civil society to engage with.
Responding to criticisms of conflicting guidelines and ,therefore, inconsistent application Francis Maude, the Cabinet Minister, said the Quango overhaul was not a top-down exercise driven by the centre but a decentralised process led by departments with the overall aim being to increase accountability for State activities. Given the all-pervading influence of the Civil Service within these departments, it is perhaps not surprising that the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, when giving evidence to the Committee was not able to give any estimate of how much will finally be saved, even when given the opportunity for more time to estimate this figure!