Whitehall ‘has turned Big Society toxic’
By Nick Mann in Liverpool | 5 July 2012
The Big Society has been turned into a ‘toxic brand’ by central government involvement and media negativity, Phil Redmond told CIPFA delegates.
Addressing the conference yesterday, Redmond, who championed Liverpool’s participation in the Big Society project, said the city’s early involvement in the coalition’s flagship scheme had been ‘hijacked’ by big government.
Liverpool was one of four Big Society ‘vanguards’, but withdrew in February 2011, claiming spending cuts had made it impossible to retain community group support for the project.
Redmond explained that Liverpool’s initial dealings with the government had been positive, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s then-strategy director Steve Hilton and some ‘policy wonks’ being invited up to Liverpool.
But as the project became more important to the prime minister himself, ‘the party machine kicked in’ and ‘things were driven not by a new sense of purpose but by the prime minister’s diary secretary’.
In a later video interview with PF Daily, Redmond qualified his criticisms. He said that the attention given to the Big Society concept had helped to stoke interest in the idea of things being done locally by people wanting to help other people.
‘Big Society as a brand is probably finished but the concept that is Big Society is gaining more traction,’ he said. ‘Even deriding what Big Society was about has got people thinking and talking about it and when you do that you inevitably end up with local activists that want to make progress and find ways to bring that about.’
Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s first elected mayor, told delegates that government needed to move beyond the rhetoric of localism and develop a ‘real, convincing vision’ for how it will devolve more power to a local level.
Anderson, who was elected as mayor of Liverpool in May, called for councils to be given the power to reallocate resources at a local level. He said ‘fragmented’ Whitehall departments needed to commit to a shared view of what localism involves.
‘We need to be able to have the opportunity to shape our own destiny,’ he said, describing ‘true’ localism as ‘the power to make choices which reflect real local needs’.