David and Ed set out a debate: BigSociety or Local Institutions?

David Cameron spoke today about the pace of public service modernisation. Whatever one’s view on that pace of change, his coalition government has a majority and a commitment to a fixed term parliament so some change is likely to happen. Talking about the stability of that coalition, the Prime Minster said:

“politics should be no different from the rest of life, where rational people find a way of overcoming their disagreements”.

However, as we know, many debates are driven by emotion as much as they are by rational discourse! On Wednesday the Health and Social Care Bill is published and the debate is likely to not just be about the rational delivery of services through some form of objective prioritisation. When lives are perceived to be at risk or people are in pain, emotions will also be likely to drive the subsequent debate. We need to consider both the rational aspects and the emotions in this debate and be mindful of them. People’s perception of “fairness” does not come out of any exact calculation, but out of perceptions shaped by our reflective and reflexive reactions.

Opposition Leader, Ed Miliband also set out his views on the role of society in relation to the state and markets over the weekend. The difference seemed to be that he saw the explicit need to protect local institutions, whatever their ownership. Press coverage over the weekend also referred to the work of academic and Citizen’s UK community organiser, the recently ennobled Lord Maurice Glasman and his conception of “cherished local institutions – everything from churches to post offices, banks, hospitals, schools and football clubs”.

Where does this difference in emphasis take us? Probably by this Spring into a minimum of 152 local debates starting in England at big-spending principal local authority level.

Will the debate be a theoretical one about “state-society-market” or will it more likely be about “xxx hospital”, “xxx library” and “xxx forest”? In the end the Big Society has to be grounded in the emotional local reality as much as the theoretical aspects, or even the rationality of a commissioning contract; because people will, through their values, focus on these three aspects in different ways.

It is important to point out that both leaders gave political speeches seeking the difficult balance between the creation of “dividing lines” with their opponents and the need to build broad “coalitions of support” for their own view. However public, voluntary or even the private sector working in partnership with the others, to administer public money in a “universal” and “impartial” way – as the Prime Minister rightly stated in his speech – do not, therefore, have the luxury of defining those who are “for” or “against” them. They have to engage with everyone in their community.

How do they communicate these challenges to people who may react in different ways to whatever change emerges from this debate?

As I have blogged before, it is vital to understand what the needs, motivations and values of the various segments of people within the local community are. These are unlikely to be a single mono-cultural set of values. Public bodies, unlike politicians, have to reach out to all.

For some people, who are not driven primarily by inner directed or even outer directed values, much of this debate can come across as a threat.  Whilst someone amongst the 28% in the UK with primarily outer directed values would no doubt vastly welcome the end of “one size fits all” or even the end of “all Council house doors painted the same colour”; nevertheless for some others – in particular the 32% in the UK with primarily safety and security values and needs – their values prefer familiarity and little change. So those phrases will have a lot less resonance to some than others.

Once the politicians have had their moment, it is important not to think in terms of the speeches we have just heard about, but instead be mindful of all the various values in the community.

Charlie Mansell is the Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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2 Responses to “David and Ed set out a debate: BigSociety or Local Institutions?”

  1. Jeff Mowatt Says:

    Open to all, is what I really wonder about Charlie.

    Ours is the perspective of a social enterprise which arrived in the UK having sourced a successful development initiative in Russia. It had begun with a thesis on capitalism with a social purpose. The bottom up localised economic development was deployed in a proof of concept initiative for the city of Tomsk and leveraged $6 million investment for microfinance to create arounf 10,000 micro enterprises in 5 years

    We were far from welcome when we introduced what was to be the antecedent of the Community Interest Company to the UK in 2004. We’d spent months developing a strategy plan for business investment in CDFIs to fund social enterprise.

    With our founder an American, unwelcome to return as a visitor, w redireted our efforts to Ukraine spending the last 6 years working on a project for ‘microeconomic development and social enterprise’. As a profit-for-purpose business we pay tax and invest in social objectives with no dividend distribution.

    When I read David Cameron’s speech on Capitalism with a Conscience at Davos, it sounded as if it had been lifted direct from our own strategy paper, with the Big Society Bank as a replica of the concept described therein for a social investment fund.

    What Greg Clark seems to be talking about is what we’ve already walked by taking social enterprise to leverage international social change. We’d laid out the ideas in full public view and called on support from US government. The response came in the form of the East Europe foundation who are now collaborating with the British Council on a social enterprise initiative in Ukraine which would never have happened without our contribution.

    These concepts and plans had been marked as copyright to protect the interest of those who should benefit most, particularly tens of thousands of disabled institutionalised children referred to as “Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way ”

    It beggars belief that for all this effort, the consequences on our own health it is now being passed off as the work of politicians to enhance their reputations and propel their careers.

    Surely neither Big Society or any alternative should be based on dishonesty?

  2. The state of Public Involvement in the Big Society era « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] who will know doubt note this report’s contents. We have blogged here, here,  here,  here and here about the communications challenges the Big Society faces. We would also argue […]

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