Sitting in our offices on the canalside in Birmingham we can watch the Conservative party conference being built across the road. It’s a heavy lifting job involving railings, concrete blocks, bollards and banners – not to mention the need to plan a different route to the sandwich shop. I have to say there’s something I miss about spending several days touring the creaky corridors of windswept hotels in Bournemouth, Brighton and Blackpool but the compensations of being able to pop in and out of the conference and its fringe probably carry the day.
There’s an awful lot of ‘securing’ going on over the way. Besides the bollards, the conference slogan is Securing a Better Future for Britain and the brochure has a full page advert from G4S telling us how they’re ‘securing our world’ (a few pages away from an invitation to an audience with Christopher Biggins).
Are markets key to securing a sustainable future?
One of the fringe debates I hope to join will be asking the question ‘are markets key to securing a sustainable future?’ I suspect I know what the prevailing view will be here but it will be interesting to see how the arguments compare to those I heard earlier this week in Manchester from Richard Wilkinson, co-author of A Convenient Truth, a new booklet published by the Fabian Society. The issue of security is dealt with here too but this time the focus is the status insecurity fuelled by social and economic inequality. Wilkinson’s argument is that our fears over status drive the rampant consumerism that is destroying the planet and can only be checked by a vision of society which reduces the dominance of the market in our lives and promotes a stronger ‘community life’ promoting wellbeing over wealth.
This may be at one end of the spectrum in terms of its distance from current political orthodoxies around growth and hard working families but with the New Economics Foundation recently extolling the value of a four day week and Richard Branson offering his staff as much leave as they want perhaps there’s a debate to be had.
Of course if a debate does start it all feels a bit remote from those people struggling to get any work at all or who need a succession of part time jobs to get by. Another booklet being launched next week with something to say on the subject is the ACEVO and CAF ‘Blue Book of the Voluntary Sector’, a compendium of Conservative takes on the role of charities and a companion piece to the yellow and red books already in circulation. A number of commentators have concluded that the current government hasn’t quite ‘got’ the voluntary sector, and is guilty of reducing it to either small scale community initiatives that survive purely on their coffee morning takings or noisy service providers slugging it out with Serco and Capita for payment by results contracts.
I hope the launch of the Blue Book gives some people pause for thought about the role the sector can play in bridging this gulf between two polar opposite positions. Charities exist because markets don’t provide for all our needs. However responsible their behaviour, given finite natural resources businesses can’t deliver sustainable development on their own. At the same time charities and social enterprises can also help to create an economic model that promotes stronger community life. Communal action to grow food, generate energy, provide care or manage assets is needed everywhere. It can generate jobs as well as improve lives.
This isn’t the stuff of conference speeches but the more we agree that all sectors – private, public, voluntary – have got something to offer in securing our future the more likely we are to achieve it.
Post by Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive