The Big Society
Source: Hansard I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for tabling today’s excellent debate. There are in my view many measures that government can undertake to encourage participation in the big society, so that people can feel more in control over their lives and solve problems they care about closer to home. First, government can create and signal opportunities for citizens to act. There are many ways to do this, from opening up public services to more flexible and citizen-centric providers, providing rights for citizens to take control over services locally, and making it easier to publicise opportunities to give time, money, and other resources. There is in fact a huge amount of information out there, but it is not always in a form that is tailored to the lives of busy citizens where they live. Technology here can help, as I have been documenting on my blog, and elsewhere. Secondly, government can remove barriers that get in the way. Sometimes the barriers are simply ones of inertia and a lack of incentives. More can be done, I am sure, to honour and reward citizens, particularly the young and those who are getting involved for the first time, to encourage enduring participation. I also welcome the imminent report from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on the bureaucratic barriers that prevent citizens and the voluntary sector from getting involved, many of which need paring back to more reasonable levels. Thirdly, government can also build the underutilised capacity of individuals and organisations to get involved, which it will do through, for example, the big society bank, the growing social investment sector, community organisers, and the Community First endowment scheme. But we cannot assume people will get involved just because government encourages them to do so. Indeed, there is evidence that the more politicised a topic like this becomes, the less people may want to engage with it. With this, I must urge the Opposition in particular to be more responsible. Just as Labour’s love of spin-doctoring has eroded at times public trust in politics, the danger of bashing the big society may be that people end up wanting to get involved less, and focus on themselves and not on helping others around them just at the time when as a country we need to pull together. Does the Minister agree that the Opposition at times risk undermining their own ideals for participation in society, whether good or big or blue, and are in reality advocating a selfish society to protect special interests rather than those of the country at large for the longer term?