The Big Society


          The Prime Minister has said he wants to explain the Big Society idea better. He has appointed a couple of Big Society advocates to spread the word.

         The good news for him is that the Big Society is alive and well. I take it to mean that the public good can be furthered by private and voluntary action, as well as by state programmes. The UK has a long and proud tradition of charitable work. It has a great history of private sector companies taking responsibility for many vital services, from the supply of bread to the discovery and manufacture of pharmaceuticals. It has many charities involved in caring for the sick and lonely, assisting the poor and disabled, and helping families in distress.

         The left wishes to argue that much of the private sector is solely motivated by profit or self interest, which they think rules out that sector doing good for others. Where they accept that charities, mutuals and not for profit companies have a role, they usually judge their social purpose and their effectiveness by how much public money they attract.

        One of the absurdities of the New Labour era was the support or creation of third sector charities and other institutions that spent considerable time and money on raising money in the form of grants from different branches of government. Such a body was said to have mixed funding if it received cash from a Council or two, from a quango or two and from central government. It is such bodies that are now finding life more difficult, as all parts of government review their policy on financing external bodies. True charities have always raised all or most of their money from outside government, so they will not be adversely affected by public  spending controls.

         The test of the Big Society idea over the next four years is this. Will there be more mutuals, more charitable giving and activity? Will groups of public sector employees set up their own institutions to further the public good?  Will there be new or more ways of joint working, and better ways of furthering the public good by private means?


  1. lifelogic
    February 13, 2011

    I tend think the big society is a distraction PR policy by Cameron. People will give their more time and money to good causes when they have some time and money left to give.

    If their time and money are all stolen by the over bearing state through tax, overpriced green energy and over regulation everywhere there will be less charity. Sort out this fist and charity will follow.

    Still at least they seem to be doing something on the absurd CRB check racket.

  2. John C
    February 13, 2011

    “Will groups of public sector employees set up their own institutions to further the public good?”

    Cameron should publicise this aspect of the Big Society more to gain public support. When asked what the Big Society is, I’ve not heard a minister mention this idea.

    I’m sure there are many parts of the public sector whose workers and managers know that they could provide a better service if they were rid of the bureaucracy and overheads of the public sector and funded directly.

    Cameron should put 100% effort into trying to encourage the creation of a few examples of this idea and publicise it fully to encourage others in the public sector to do the same.

    For example, why don’t the refuse section of a local authority become a non-profit organisation. If they become more efficient the workers could earn more money yet reduce overall costs to the public? Many other areas could do the same.

  3. norman
    February 13, 2011

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though there is zero chance of it ever happening.

    If the government really believes in this then allow us to offset up to 10% of our taxes to donate to organisations that are on a list of Big Society certified charities.

    The money would flow in. I’m sure a lot of us think charities do a better, more targeted job than bloated government but, unfortunately, government isn’t the only one with no money left after Labour’s financial fiasco.

    We can’t support everyone and if we don’t support big government we get thrown in jail and our possessions taken from us.

    1. alan jutson
      February 13, 2011


      Do not like the idea of a Government list of approved charities for donations, it once again smacks of control. Its either all, or none !

      The Government already gives a tax break to any registered charity under Gift Aid.

      If you are a business then you can give to charity and include it in your accounts.

      If you die, then a donation to charity out of your estate, is not calculated for Inheritance Tax puposes.

  4. alan jutson
    February 13, 2011

    Will there be more real charities, and more charitable giving in the next four years?

    Given the state of the economy and the squeeze on earnings and savings interest, it is reasonable to expect that more will be required of charities, but that it will not be forthcoming.

    Most real volunteer charitable organisations, Lions, Rotary, Round Table and the like (with no Government or Local Authority Funding) have been having problems attracting new members during the past decade. The average age of the members of those organisations is going up, and new younger blood is difficult to find.
    That simple fact means that the energy of those clubs/organisations has somewhat stagnated and will in time reduce if new blood does not come forward to replace those who leave or pass on.

    The Britsh public have always been very generous in their giving to worthy causes, and no doubt will continue to be so, but they will not be more generous if their income is restricted. They may therefore be more selective and continue to give, but only to only those organisations who they either know, or really trust, which is no bad thing.

    Over the last couple of decades, charity has become a much used and well worn word/phrase to describe all sorts of organisations and projects. Many of those organisations which have sprung up are nothing of the kind, as a huge percentage of their income is spent on salaries, expenses, publicity, overheads, leaving but a very, very small percentage of the donations given, to be used for the original intended purpose.

    Charity now is in many cases big business with large salaries first, that to my mind is not what real charitable work is all about. The Charity Commission have to take some of the blame for this in approving/continuing to approve such organisations, (as they do see the accounts each year of every organisation which is registered with them)

    Perhaps we need to redefine the word and meaning of Charity, or Charitable Organisation. !

    1. alan jutson
      February 13, 2011

      Perhaps I should have said.

      Accounts have to be submitted every year.

      They may not be inspected by the Charity Commission of course, they may just be filed, or placed on record.

  5. Mark
    February 13, 2011

    So far the Government has done nothing to repeal the Charities Act, 2006 or remove Dame Suzy Leather as Charities Commissioner. Until that happens, the public will continue to view most charities as Government funded quangos and Labour’s political mouthpieces in single issue politics. Appointing a couple of A list failed PPCs – however worthy – as Big Society Ambassadors simply adds to the impression that the idea is a creature of the Notting Hill set, and therefore not worthy of public admiration.

    If Cameron wants charities to play more of a part, they should be banned from political campaigning or lose charitable status. They should perhaps also consider paycuts for their chiefs in a number of cases.

    1. lifelogic
      February 13, 2011

      I agree charities have become a voice (like the BBC) for an ever bigger state. Dame Suzy should certainly go and any charity tax advantages should be severely limited to expenditure on actual good works not propaganda for “equality” “sustainability” “spirit level” guff and a bigger suffocating state all round.

  6. Mr. Green
    February 13, 2011

    Having been a voluntary (=unpaid) fundraiser for a charity (helping people with MS) I am amazed by the large number of people in the ‘voluntary’ or third sector who receive large salaries from the public purse. These organisations should be re-named as quangos or agencies of the civil service.

    Also it grates on me to make long and complicated funding applications to organisations which pay back to the British people part of the money they have paid to the EU in net contributions to the EU budget. Of course much of this cash is soaked up in huge salaries and top-quality offices for officials. In addition, does not HMRC spend huge sums on staff and offices taxing us in complex ways and then operating inefficient and fraud-prone systems to pay most of that money back to the public, after soaking up staff and administration costs. Is it true that recently for the first time HMRC has paid out more than it has collected? So I’d like to see the Big Society include the concept of a reduced role by the state in simply churning all this money around, so unproductively. Does someone on ¬£50,000 need a tax credit or child benefit? Why tax the very poor and then give them money in various benefits back?

  7. Acorn
    February 13, 2011

    People will donate to charities, if the work of that charity chimes sufficiently with their own thinking on a matter. Unfortunately, they won’t know if they have donated already via their taxes.

    On the Charity Commission’s web site for instance; looking at the “Charity overview” page; the “financial history” chart, should show the proportion of income from any and every taxpayer source. They should list all these sources by name, in the accounts. It will be quite a while before catches up with them.

  8. Electro-Kevin
    February 13, 2011

    There is still far too much in the way of public resources being diverted by the state to the undeserving.

    How can it be right that a naughty teenager who has contributed nothing to society is put ahead of a war veteran in the queue for social housing ?

    I heard a commenter of Radio 4 this week state the following: “There is a clear link between inequality and the fact that an increasing proportion of children are arriving at school unable to speak.”

    I inferred from this that the commenter would prefer yet more money and housing stock going to people who would fail to teach their children how to speak. As though this would cure the problem.

    This is completely about face. This failure in parenting is being caused not by inequality but by the fact that the wrong people are being encouraged to breed through benefits. The right people are so strapped for cash that they’re leaving parenthood until their thirties. So obviously the proportion of children arriving at schools unprepared is rising.

    I and my wife didn’t need the Government to tell us to get involved in charity. We’ve already been doing it for years. But seeing what Government wastes our money on makes us want to chuck it all in.

  9. Geoff MM
    February 13, 2011

    How much money does a charity have to take from the taxpayer/government to cease been its self( a charity) and morph into a quango. Until the left wing can come up with some form of definition we are going no where with this debate on the BS. Perhaps Dame Suzi can enlighten us.
    From their website:
    “Dame Suzi has been Chair of the Charity Commission since August 2006. Her previous chairing roles include the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the School Food Trust, an NHS Trust and a community project. Dame Suzi was also the first Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency. She has volunteered with Age Concern, the Probation Service, a community playgroup, a community food project and a grassroots project to support older people in their own homes.

    Suzi’s academic background is in politics, social work and probation. Her particular interests include food policy, nutrition and poverty, the needs of low-income consumers and the impact of European policies on UK consumers. “

  10. John Ward
    February 13, 2011

    I think you raise interesting points about a more mutual social alternative to the mad, controlling and divisive pc of Labour and the extra-Parliamentary LibDems….and the equally deluded zero-sum game of globalist ‘libertarian’ mercantilism.

    I further think that, when allied with the David Davis approach to liberty and the Malcolm Brady view of Grammar Schools as genuine agents for social mobility, a Party based on such ideas would romp to victory in a General Election.

    Well-said Mr Redwood.

    1. Mike Stallard
      February 13, 2011

      I would love to agree. If you see litter lying about, if you see unemployed teenagers, if you walk past black rubbish sacks thrown into the dykes every day then it becomes second nature to demand that the State Does Something. You do not do anything yourself because you have long ago given up trying.
      Grammar Schools demand hard work and they produce “snobs” who dress differently, speak differently and do not mix with “the working class”. They really are not popular, you know. The people who send their children to ¬£30,000 schools live way out there in the country with huge gardens so you never see them anyway. But the Grammar School people come home to the suburbs in their smart black blazers and black shoes, the girls wearing long trailing skirts and carrying books..

      1. Electro-Kevin
        February 14, 2011

        Heaven forbid ! People dressing smartly and speaking nicely.

  11. grahams
    February 13, 2011

    Sorr. I am as confused as I was about the “stakeholder society”, the “third way”, George HW Bush’s “thousand points of light” or even Mao’s : “let a thousand flowers bloom”.

    I can see the benefit of handing back minority social issues to charity and the virtue of more John Lewis type organisations in the service sector, including the NHS.

    But the most obvious centres of non-taxpayer community organisations are the Churches, the Trade Unions and Chambers of Commerce. None of these seem to be mentioned in the Big Society, the first two being seen as beyond the pale and the last by-passed and ignored.

  12. David John Wilson
    February 13, 2011

    Having spent the last week with family in a small village in Somerset I was amazed by the extent to which the people in the village were dependent on each other and the extent to which the elderly were supported by their neighbours. If the Big Society means that just a small proportion of that attitude can be brought back to places like Wokingham, then the sooner the better.

  13. Mike Stallard
    February 13, 2011

    In our Church Hall we have Weight Watchers which is a capitalist organisation devoted, quite rightly, to getting people fitter. It is efficient and people lose weight. They pay money and are treated to efficiency and a detailed programme which includes recipes and bags of encouragement.
    We also have Meetings for the Police, for Teachers and for other Government Officials. They usually take the form of someone standing or sitting in control with people listening. A coffee break is allowed and people go out shamefacedly for a smoke.There is a lot of planning and use of charts and tables.
    On Friday our classroom was taken over by PHAB. I had to go in because I had forgotten a book. People were sitting round playing dominoes and cards. The atmosphere was relaxed. I realised that everyone in the support roles went to Church and guessed that they were there without money changing hands. When I came in, people of all stripes smiled and welcomed me. One volunteer actually asked if she could help with the lesson as I seemed to have a lot of people in there.

    Three provisions – commercial. Needs no money, efficient. State – gulping taxes, depending on money and not really efficient, although it looks it. Church – loving, needing no money, free of any sort of control.

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