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you think about the Big Society, the principles are universal –
people need to be empowered and enabled to depend on themselves
rather than the state.
The state we’re in right now, regardless of who you think put us
there, is unacceptably precarious for people in vulnerable
Unemployment is soaring – meaning those people who were out of
work before this crisis are even further from finding a job. The
funding model for tackling a lot of this is being turned on its
head with local authorities having to cut services and local
charities losing funding streams.
I’m not trying to make a political point here, it’s simply a
reality that whilst this government reviews what the last one did
there are millions of people caught up in waiting for the solutions
to filter down to them.
Now is the time for us to come together – whether public sector,
private sector, charity, local business, national or international
corporation and support the work going on to get our communities on
So, here’s my idea – find out who is making a difference to
the communities that are getting left behind and work with them to
speed their efforts. It could be a local authority, it could be a
local charity, it could be a national organisation such as the
National Apprenticeships Service or it could be Groundwork UK,
where I work. Then let’s co-ordinate these efforts. Let BiTC know
what you’re doing, who you’re supporting, let’s collect the work
into one place. Add it together, and we’ve got a national campaign
which is championing the cause of communities in need.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking why should you bother
doing that? It’s simple. You need to do it because your efforts as
businesses, your future economic success depends on this nation not
being dragged down by poverty.
And if we do it together, the government can’t ignore it. Your
role, therefore, is really important. Are you supporting charities
or local businesses working on the front line? Are your staff
volunteering, or offering apprenticeships or work experience to
people out of work? Are you prepared to stand up for the poor in
our society – and tell the government that you are doing so because
it’s in the nation’s best economic interests that you do?
So, how do we come together as charities and businesses to
champion our communities? Through having partnerships with each
other – and if you are looking for a charitable partnership please
come and talk to Groundwork because we’re experts in offering
people prospects and helping them change the places they live for
But, more to the point, you need to regard any partnership that
benefits the community as one of your most valid business
collaborations. It can be as powerful to you as, for example, your
membership of a trade body – or even your relationship with your
bank. It makes you relevant to your customers and it works wonders
with motivating your staff.
In my book, that’s good business.
Groundwork has always done partnerships – whether with local
authority, public or private sector organisations, to get things
done in and for local communities. The trick is to be clear at the
outset on what the partnership will achieve for the community.
Here are just a few examples from
Groundwork of the positive changes that can be made when
communities, businesses and the voluntary sector work together.
This week it's the big one, the Conservative Party Conference
and it's home turf for us as it's being held here in Birmingham and
a stone's throw from our offices - not that we're throwing stones.
We've had some really good meetings with Ministers - among
them Nick Hurd, Charles Hendry, David Freud and Tim Loughton. Tim,
who has children and young people in his brief was particularly
open and engaged - turning up to several roundtable discussions
(where he wasn't even the main speaker) to listen to concerns.
Today I see that Tim has stuck his head above the parapet and
commented on the potential unintended consequences of removing
child benefit from higher rate tax payers - although I imagine
David Cameron was well aware of the backlash it would
provoke. Whilst there's no doubt we'll all be hit hard by the
spending cuts it is heartening that ministers like Tim are able to
see the effect and want to discuss actively how best to protect the
most vulnerable from the worst of the cuts. That is important
- the recession is hitting the poorest harder than any other group,
as is always the case. Ministers who know and understand
their brief well will not enjoy this spending squeeze any more than
most of us, but they are best placed to help mitigate the
We held a small reception at our office and were delighted to
welcome Baroness Margaret Eaton. She's a great speaker - lively and
passionate and luckily for us, a big fan of Groundwork.
Anyone who wandered in for the curry and beer was left in no doubt
what an impact our organisation makes thanks to Margaret!
I was speaking at a Fabians breakfast fringe meeting at the
Labour party conference this morning. It was on green investment
and also speaking were Emily Thornberry, shadow for climate change
and Michael Jacobs, former no.10 adviser on climate change.
There's a consensus over the importance of inward investment but
also anxiety that massive cuts to departmental budgets bring
instability and insecurity to the sector. As Emily pointed out, for
a small department like the Department for Energy and Climate
Change (DECC), 40 per cent cuts will reduce it to nuclear clean ups
and that's about it.
There was a lot of support for retrofitting and skilling up people
to deliver energy improvements to homes - giving us the tools to
tackle our own energy consumption. I'd like to see energy reduction
embedded into government policy at all levels. An example - the
Winter Fuel Allowance needs to focus at least as much on saving
energy, not just meeting the cost of using more. The funds should
be reorientated, so the payment can be used to insulate homes
(perhaps with two for one vouchers?) rather then simply helping
people, however needy, as they consume more fuel. We need to
start joining up policy on green issues if we are to get the most
from the pared-down budgets that are still available.
I've just returned from the Lib Dem Party Conference
where I witnessed a strange mix of emotions. Excitement and delight
at the developments which have placed them in Government and,
thanks to their leader, punched well above their weight in terms of
policy and influence. Yet many councillors seemed deeply
uneasy at the reality of savage public service cuts and the effect
they will have on poorer people.
As one outspoken councillor put it at a policy
roundtable about young people I attended - ''We're cutting the
deficit now so that future generations won't have to suffer our
mess, but future generations are already suffering because cutting
the deficit means cutting support services.'' In the refreshing
conspiracy light Lib Dem style, these fears were all freely voiced
to the DPM and seem to be taken in good part - Nick Clegg even
turned up to a fringe where one of the main speakers had been
asking him awkward questions during his opening speech. These are
however, very real fears and let's hope they are taken note of
On a lighter note, the latest deficit reduction analogy - a
cabbie in Liverpool to Nick Clegg's mate: ''If someone is sick in
the back of my cab, I don't blame it on the woman with the mop and
bucket who clears it up.''
The coalition government is 100 days old today, and I
have been very interested in some of the ideas we have heard during
that time. While a lot of emphasis has been placed on spending cuts
(perhaps sometimes to the exclusion of all else), a number of ideas
to emerge from the Government over the past 100 days have a lot of
potential - if properly resourced and properly handled.
The first is the ‘Big Society.’ Giving
communities the knowledge, tools and confidence to take their own
decisions and collective action can only be a good thing. But a
true Big Society must provide support to those on the margins so they can play a full and
active role in shaping the destiny of their communities.
The second is the Green Deal. Groundwork has long
argued that more needs to be done to make homes as energy efficient
as possible. We believe that energy
efficiency advice for the most vulnerable needs to be as
personal as possible – and our experience with programmes like
the Green Doctor shows that bespoke
advice provided to householders by someone they trust is a very
effective way to change behaviour.
Third is the National Citizen Service, which was
billed as a programme to get more young people to volunteer and
take part in projects to develop “life skills and resilience.”
Groundwork and its partners have a great deal
of experience of working with young people to give them
opportunities to realise their potential. We have found they want
to play an active role and to have their voices heard in their
communities but need to be given the tools and support needed for
it to happen - this initiative has the potential to give them
The past few weeks have certainly been interesting and there has
unquestionably been a lot of food for thought. Over the course of
the past 100 days the government has signalled some good intentions
– but must now create the conditions to make them a reality.
And it must fulfil the promises in its own coalition agreement: to
take action to shield the most vulnerable neighbourhoods from the
most damaging impact of the cuts.
The latest raft of announcements about bank profits
has come at an interesting time. Although the political heat
surrounding fat-cat bonuses has been turned down a bit since the
election, the government is still applying pressure to get
financial institutions to play their part in supporting social
policy objectives. Nowhere is this happening more than in the field
of welfare to work provision. The Work Programme is the new game in
town - a results-based, personally tailored approach to getting
people into jobs. Over the last few years this has become a market
dominated by private sector prime contractors often engaging public
and voluntary sector subs. It sort of works. It would work better,
however, if more of those supply chains were managed by
organisations whose primary driver isn't profit.
The Work Programme should allow greater flexibility with the
potential to distribute risk and reward across the supply chain
with enough balance and creativity to ensure no-one goes out of
business and everyone is able to do what they're good at - whether
it's job brokerage, temporary employment, specialist support or
just helping people get out of bed in the morning. The scale of the
contracts to be let will be such, however, that very few will be
able to engage without attracting external finance. Back to the
banks. As far as anyone can tell, none of them are saying no but
none of them are saying yes. As soon as one does throw their hat in
the ring - and does so publicly - then I'm sure others will follow.
There is undoubtedly money to be made from this but there's also
the chance to demonstrate social credentials by backing proposals
that also help to strengthen the role of the third sector in public
Today saw David Cameron bring his ‘PM Direct’ event to central
Birmingham. I attended the event and felt that the Prime
Minister delivered a polished performance – handling the questions
put to him very well, turning the debate around to the Big Society
wherever possible or tackling the budget deficit.
An interesting question was raised on the issue of retrofitting,
and I was pleased he made the connection to green jobs and didn’t
just refer to fuel poverty and saving money. Another
gentleman asked a question challenging the idea of climate change
and the PM was swift to point out that he felt that even if you
didn’t believe in the science, (which he personally did) if your
house was at risk of burning down you would still take insurance
out, so action on climate change was needed. He then made the
link to energy security: we can't rely on ever more difficult
to reach carbon fuels, so action is required anyway.
A colleague who works on a number of Groundwork projects asked what
support would be given to disadvantaged communities to play an
active role in the Big Society. Acknowledging that the third
sector has been helping to create the conditions needed for a Big
Society long before he coined the term, Cameron said that he saw
the Government’s role was to help the sector to do more of what’s
required to do so, instead of less – something that perhaps bodes a
bit more positively for the future than the cuts agenda might
The Sustainable Development Commission has brought out
its fifth annual report on Government departments' green behaviour.
I remember when the SDC was set up, I think then under the Cabinet
Office, and it promptly marked that department as the worst
performing of all. Progress has been made and improvements in
energy, waste, recycling and road transport mean millions have
already been saved and millions more can be if the coalition steps
up its ambition.
Whilst these savings arise from measures implemented
by the last government, this is really good news. Groundwork is one
of a number of partners working with the environmental think tank
Green Alliance, studying the policy
mechanisms needed to effect green behaviour change. An area
which has emerged is that of Governments' behaviour and the crucial
role it plays in influencing the public - whether that be laying
out a frightening doomsday scenario which does nothing to motivate
people, passing policy directives which appear to contradict its
messages or failing to practise what it preaches in terms of
departments and ministers' behaviours. This last one has added
resonance now cost savings are an imperative and that reason alone,
quite apart from any environmental considerations, should be
sufficient to ensure that the coalition is listening.
It's sad then to see the SDC is falling victim to the
efficiency savings and funding is being withdrawn. Scrutiny of
government's environmental performance will fall to the Environment
Audit Committee, who chaired by the very experienced Joan Walley,
alongside Caroline Lucus and Zac Goldsmith will I'm sure continue
the SDC's good work and give all departments' activities their full
attention, albeit along side their other work commitments.
Our work with the Green Alliance has several years to
run but looks like being an important part of future policy
discussions on this topic. Green Alliance will be holding meetings
at the three main party conference fringes this autumn. The events
will be open discussions so please feel free to come along and join
The Prime Minister has today outlined details of the
government’s planned national citizen service - a programme aimed
at getting more young people to volunteer in their community. The
scheme will be launched next summer, and will see 10,000 teenagers
take part in projects intended to develop “life skills and
You may remember the idea was first proposed during the election campaign, and
received backing from Sir Michael Caine. As part of today’s
announcement the Prime Minister has said the scheme would “teach
young people to be socially responsible and appreciate what they
could achieve and how they could be part of the Big Society.”
Groundwork has a great deal of experience of working
with young people on youth engagement schemes that give them the
skills and confidence to make a positive contribution to their
communities. Our ‘Children
and Young People of Westmill (CAYPOW) project’ is just one of
many examples. The three-year project on the disadvantaged Westmill
housing estate in Hertfordshire helped to get the voices of young
people heard in their community and gave them a positive profile
amongst the adults in their neighbourhood.
CAYPOW and other similar projects show that young people can be
a powerful force for good and will play an active role in their
communities if given a chance. With meaningful support their drive
and enthusiasm to make a difference can help shape their future -
and the destiny of their neighbourhoods.
I found this morning's (re)launch of the 'Big
Society' in Liverpool very interesting.
As the Government itself has previously acknowledged, ensuring
communities are given real power to address local issues will need
more than just applying better sticking plasters or creating a
stronger safety net. It will mean giving those most
vulnerable neighbourhoods the knowledge, tools and confidence to
make their own decisions and the freedom to take collective
responsibility and action.
Groundwork’s Centenary Gardens project in Manchester has done
just that. The success of the project is entirely down to the
drive and determination of a community who had very clear – and
very strong views – on how a local issue should be dealt
with. The site used to be a derelict and dangerous piece of
land in Old Trafford. Actively supported by Groundwork, a
group of local residents, the local authority, school and a youth
club worked together to secure the transformation into a green
space that, as a result of addressing their original concerns and
implementing their solutions, inspires them to take on the job of
its ongoing maintenance.
The Big Society is, at the moment, a defining concept for the
way this Government intends to play the cards it’s been
dealt. We must be ready to respond to ensure that those on the margins can take part and take more
control of the places in which they live, and the cards that
they in turn have been dealt.