The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-100)

Q1 Chair: Welcome to this evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee, our first public session on the topic of the Big Society.  I wonder if each of you could identify yourselves for the record, please.

Lord Glasman:  I am Lord Glasman, Labour peer. I worked for 10 years with London Citizens, and I think it is that experience that I bring to this inquiry.

Chair: I think you will need to speak up, as we do not have amplification in this room.

Polly Toynbee: Polly Toynbee, from The Guardian.

Shaun Bailey: Shaun Bailey, appointed by the Prime Minister as a Big Society Ambassador.  I am also the MD of a very small charity called My Generation.

Danny Kruger: I am Danny Kruger.  I run another charity called Only Connect.  We work with prisoners and ex­offenders and young people at risk of crime.  Before that, I was working in Westminster for the Conservative party.

Q2 Chair: First of all, could each of you summarise concisely what you think the Big Society means?  Mr Kruger.

Danny Kruger:  Thank you.  The Big Society is an attempt by the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to articulate the need for a space between the market and the state, a recognition of the importance of families and communities and personal and social responsibility, and it is an attempt to move beyond the purely economic idea of what Conservatism stands for and to challenge the notion that Government, mostly central Government, is the only agency that can deliver public good.  It is both an intellectual and a policy agenda.

Polly Toynbee:  I am at a bit of a loss, to tell you the truth.  I am not entirely sure; I wait to hear and have it defined and to learn more, and perhaps your Committee will clarify matters.  My worry is that it is a wonderful political phrase that nobody could possibly disagree with: we all want society to be more engaged; we want communities to be more engaged with one another; we all are concerned about atomisation, alienation, people feeling isolated and a sense of a lack of community.  I think all political parties have been struggling to find ways of bringing communities together, and I expect that the Big Society is a part of that.  My worries about it, I suppose, are that it is happening at a time of such severe cuts in the very things that do help communities come together: cuts in the voluntary sector and particularly in those small local charities that do so much and spring up from the grass roots.  It seems to me to be a rather top-down initiative as we have it at the moment, and I worry that it is a cloak for those cuts: to pretend that somehow people volunteering without any help from any outside agency can fill the gaping gaps left by some of the really severe cuts that are currently going on in things people very much care about locally—things that bring people together.

Shaun Bailey:  The Big Society is an attempt to get the country to share responsibility.  Currently we have a system that is predicated on massive central government: 51% of our GDP.  It is not sustainable; it generates poverty in and of itself, and we are trying to use civic power to address the gap between what people would like to be done and what can be done by professional institutions.  It is a way of freeing up extra power without economy.  It is a way of changing mindsets from those at the very top to give of their time and their money to the bottom, and it is also a way of showing well-meaning but displaced people from poverty that some of turning poverty around is counter-intuitive.  Always giving with no ask is not very useful when you try to stop a country and particular parts of that country slipping into deep, long-term poverty.  Poverty is generational: we have given massive amounts of money into it, more than ever before, we have a great big industry around poverty, and it has achieved very little at all.

Q3 Chair: Just something I would observe immediately, as Polly Toynbee says, cuts in public spending—implying that these are a bad thing—you are immediately saying that 51% of GDP being spent by the state is not necessarily a good thing.

Shaun Bailey: It is not only not a good thing, it is unsustainable.  At some point we will run out of money.  The argument says we have already run out of money—that is a different debate—but the point being that spending that money in the way in which it is spent has a social impact.  The current centralised attack on that situation has proved to be useless.  It needs to be turned around, and civic power is one of the most important ways of addressing that problem.

Lord Glasman:  I think I am going to echo most of what Danny said, stated a bit more bluntly: I think there are four elements to the Big Society.  I think the first is directly party political: it is a very serious attempt to detoxify the Tory brand and claim the mutualist, co-operative traditions from Labour, depicting Labour as a statist party and a bureaucratic party.  So the first element is, I think, a very explicitly political attempt to seize ground that Labour vacated, particularly under Brown, and to present this Conservative Party as something distinctly different to the Thatcher party, so they can have the same economic policies but have a very different approach to social policy. 

I think the second aspect of the Big Society is a genuine support for volunteerism, and to engage to try and organise that, including aspects of leadership development.  I think the third aspect is a serious attempt to restructure public sector provision along the lines of mutualism and to have greater local engagement, and I think that the fourth one is a genuine attempt to address aspects of powerlessness among citizens.  I think in some ways it does that in its approach to the public sector, but it remains entirely silent on issues of private sector power, and that is why it is so hard to pin down: it does not address the main cause of people's powerlessness, which is their weakness in the marketplace.

Q4 Paul Flynn: If I give you a concrete example, perhaps you can tell me how you react to it.  Yesterday morning I was in my constituency, where an announcement was made that 120 civil servants are going to be thrown out of work by a Government decision.  Now, if you were to go along to them and say, "We have our salvation here in the Big Society, because in future you can go out and work for nothing," don't you think they would be tempted to tell you where you can shove your Big Society?

Lord Glasman:  The only caveat I would make is I will say it is not mine; I was trying to depict where it sat.  I think that there is a completely legitimate space for discussing how to deliver public services.  There are two aspects, I would say.  The first is on the one side there is a transfer of power to the work force through the mutualism.

Q5 Paul Flynn: With respect, we have always had that: that is going back to the guild socialist, going back to what is centuries away.  What is different about the Big Society, except that it comes at a time of unparalleled government cuts?

Lord Glasman: It has been fatally damaged by certain ways that it has attacked fundamental public vision, but I do not want to underestimate the extent to which our provision, Labour provision of public services, was perceived by many to be bureaucratic, inflexible.  It addresses a weakness in the way that we approached it.

Q6 Paul Flynn: But is it not finished?  When Prime Ministers have ideas like the Cones Hotline, or Back To Basics, or the Third Way, someone should say, "Emperor, you have no clothes"?  There is no question the idea has been explained, launched, re­launched and re­re­launched, and the more people explain, the less people understand.  Isn't it over?

Lord Glasman: As the rappers say: it ain't over.  There are two aspects to why it is not over.  The first is the success of the branding operation.  At the last election, as you noticed, the Conservative vote went up, and there is an element in which it does soften the edges of the—

Q7 Paul Flynn: So it is a branding exercise?  This is a way of selling Conservatism from the nasty party to the nice party.

Lord Glasman: To a nicer party.

Paul Flynn: Yeah; it could not have been nastier, I don't think.

Lord Glasman:  What I do not want to lose is the extent to which Labour lost the guild socialist, Tawney, GDH Cole mutual provision and the way that Labour treated the public sector work force.

Q8 Paul Flynn: But as the idea is held in contempt by most charities, because they see the cynicism and the cuts that accompany it, and not held in much respect by the far right, the Daily Mail, who see it as nannying, what hope has he got?  At which point does someone take the Prime Minister to one side and say, "Look, forget about this.  It cannot work.  Give it up and concentrate on something worthwhile"?

Lord Glasman:  Many have taken him to one side and told him exactly that, and what is interesting is that he perseveres with this.

Q9 Chair: Mr Bailey, do you wish to comment?

Shaun Bailey:  The one thing I would say about those public sector workers is they are a little bit more clued in, because they would ask the question where did the money go in the first place, and clearly with 13 years of Labour government, that is where the money went.

Q10 Paul Flynn: I welcome you to come to Newport and explain it to them, Mr Bailey, and I am sure they will give you an interesting answer.

Shaun Bailey:  The thing about public services and the size of them, and people being laid off or not, is that many people in the Labour party have stated they would not do the Big Society, but they have stated they would do the cuts.  Your leadership has said as much.  My point being that the cuts and the Big Society are entirely separate.

Q11 Paul Flynn: You speak as a Conservative candidate, do you?

Shaun Bailey:  Absolutely, I make no bones about that, but you made a party political point.  My point is that your leadership said that it would do the cuts and it would not do the Big Society. The cuts and the Big Society are separate.

Q12 Robert Halfon: Just to declare one thing that I should have told the Committee, I am actually a good friend of Mr Kruger, having very much attended the Big Society Wedding a couple of years ago.  Miss Toynbee, you implied that the Big Society is just about volunteering, but is it not much more than that?  Philosophically it says that social capital—the glue that binds communities together—is as important as economic capital.  It also says that people power, i.e. giving people the chance to run things and control things, is as important—if not more important—than state power, and that is much more than just saying that we want to give a little bit of a boost to volunteers.

Polly Toynbee:  I agree: that is a statement of fact.  But how do you create it?  How do you make it happen?  It does not sound like a policy; what you are saying just sounds like an observation.  What I want to know is how you then create it, how you make it happen.  I think there is a great deal of evidence—I very much hope this Committee will call on the huge amount of evidence there is—about what works.  This is not year zero: you are not starting from nowhere saying, "I know, let's try to encourage a bit of community activism here."  A lot is known.  There are problems about volunteering, in the sense that it happens very much more in prosperous areas than in poor areas with very little social capital.  Where people are poorest there is least social capital and the least trust between people, and in the places that most need it, it is hardest to generate that kind of community.

But there have been, over the Labour era—and you should not ignore the enormous amount of evaluation and information that was learnt in that time because it happened to be under the Labour era—some extremely good programmes that worked very well, or worked to varying degrees.  They were evaluated in ways that you could see what worked, what did not, where money was wasted and where it was well spent.  I would particularly point you to the New Deal for Communities, which was a mega-pilot experiment in 39 areas, given money for 10 years so they knew it would be there for the whole time.  On the Sheffield Hallam website there are all the evaluations, and you can see exactly what worked and what did not within that, but it concentrated on the very worst estates and the very worst areas in the country.  It used a whole lot of different methods for trying to get the community together, and it was incredibly difficult for the people who tried to get together very fractured, very fractious local communities to decide themselves what they wanted to do and to work together in committees.  There were rows and troubles, and some of them fell apart at the beginning and had to be reconstituted, but in that evidence there is, I think, an extraordinary wealth of stats for what a Government should do.  It does not necessarily have to cost as much as that cost; there were things in there that did not cost all that much, but all of it required some professional help.  It required people with experience who know how to galvanise that and to make it happen.  The idea that it could all be for free and it is just about volunteering is mistaken—it is about how you draw it together.

Q13 Robert Halfon: That is not the idea.

Polly Toynbee:  You mean the idea is that it should not be like that.

Q14 Chair: Let's just agree at the outset that there is a tendency within Westminster politics to trash the other side, to undervalue what the other side has achieved, or we could have a very adversarial and unconstructive session.  I would also suggest that we have to get over this question of public spending.  Is it possible to run a Big Society agenda at the same time as reducing public spending?

Shaun Bailey: Absolutely.

Q15 Chair: Because, Miss Toynbee, you seem to be saying that the Big Society is a joke because the Government have to cut public spending as though there was another option, when we know there is not another option.

Polly Toynbee:  There are options about how much you cut and what you cut.

Q16 Chair: How much should we cut, then?

Polly Toynbee:  Are we going to have a debate about economics?

Q17 Chair: That is what I want to avoid—that is the point.

Polly Toynbee:  Absolutely. I rather deliberately did not take up Shaun's points because I thought they would lead us into economics.  All right, you are going to cut some, and we do not necessarily need a debate here about how much.  What I wanted to say is that it is not free.  You get what you pay for in community organising to some degree, and do not imagine that this is somehow a way of reconstituting society because you have not got the money any more.

Q18 Chair: In fact, public spending is still rising in real terms, but that is another matter.

Polly Toynbee:  If you want to go into the economy, that is because we are in a death spiral where growth is flat­lining.  If the economy were growing, we would not be—

Chair: Actually, the economy is growing, but that is another matter.  But we can get past this lump in the argument that, just because public spending has to be contained, you cannot talk about gluing communities together, improving a sense of community across the country. Let us learn from what the previous Labour Government did, but let's also learn from their mistakes.

Q19 Robert Halfon: Just to come in on that, you may disagree with the measures, but if the argument is that the Big Society says that people power is more important than state power, or as important, the measures of some of the things that the Government are doing on health, education, free schools, academies, police commissioners, more co-operatives—and you may disagree with how that is done—is all about putting people in charge.  You may say that the results will not achieve that, but that is the idea of it—that people power is as important as state power.

Q20 Chair: Yes, Miss Toynbee, why is this a joke?  Why does this make it a joke?

Polly Toynbee: It does not make it a joke.

Q21 Chair: You have described it as a joke.

Robert Halfon: That is not about volunteering; that is a real, substantive policy.

Polly Toynbee: The question about communities, which Maurice Glasman is much better to answer than I am, is that communities are often in conflict about things.  To simply say, "We give free schools to the people," a lot of people in those same communities may be saying, "We do not want a free school down here," but Michael Gove up there says, "Yes, you can have one because that little group wants one," but maybe, I do not know, maybe a whole lot of other people in the area say, "No, it is going to destabilise our school system."

Q22 Robert Halfon: But then they do not have to go to the free school; they can go to a state school.

Polly Toynbee: No, but their own schools get destabilised.

Q23 Robert Halfon: They do not.  Why?

Polly Toynbee:  Well, they may well feel that those schools are creaming off a whole lot of children; they are also creaming off money from the state schools.  I am not making a point about whether free schools are good or not; I am making a point about communities not being one thing.  There will be arguments and disputes all the time between people who want to do this and people who want to do that, and the idea that giving power to community from on high to anybody who happens to call themselves community in any one area necessarily generates community spirit is quite a dangerous thought.

Robert Halfon: It is not going to work like that, because free schools will only work in a community if parents want it.

Q24 Chair: But is this not really an argument about diversity of provision against equality?  Which is the more important value: equality or diversity of provision and opportunity?  Is that not one of the big political divides in politics?

Danny Kruger:  It is going to be a lot messier under this arrangement, that is certainly true, and there will be inequity and failure, and some of the current institutions will suffer, and those might include good institutions, so it is not a panacea, but it is predicated on the idea that it is not within the power of politicians to come up with a panacea, or indeed anybody.  The hope—and I share this hope and believe in it—is that overall, if we are concerned with equality and equity and fairness, overall we will have a fairer outcome, even though there will be messiness on the ground.

Can I just respond to the point about cuts briefly?  The fact is that Government spending is falling, and the fact is that the implication of that is that the state is retreating to one of its core purposes and remits.  I see that in the work I do in prisons and communities in the fight against crime.  Prison rehabilitation services are reducing in a lot of prisons, so a restorative justice project that I know well has lost its funding in London prisons.  Prisons are becoming warehouses for incarceration once again.  Whether we approve of that or not, that is their primary function, and in a reduced public spending envelope that is what they are going to be.  Police services are losing the money that they spend on crime prevention, and are therefore necessarily becoming about detecting and catching criminals once again.  We are returning to a core idea of the state as being there to react to problems as they occur.  I do not think that is a bad thing in many ways, because I think the state is always going to be bad at the long-term, relational, often emotional social work of, for instance, reducing re­offending by ex­offenders or preventing crime among young people.  That is properly the work of social organisations like Shaun's and mine, and it should not be the remit of Government to try to impose that.  The police are bad at crime prevention, prisons are bad at reducing re­offending or getting people off drugs.  Third-sector organisations are better at that.

Polly Toynbee: But in a lot of areas they do not exist, and particularly in some of the neediest areas with the least social capital there is the least of that around.

Shaun Bailey: That is easiest to fix.  It is very easy to sit outside of a poor community and tell that poor community what it wants, and then go into that poor community and tell them what they need, and they will respond to you because you have a much more powerful education and you are better at elaborating on a problem.  The key thing about poverty and poor people is that poverty is as much about mindset as it is about money.  If you give poor people lots of money, they buy things, and not always what they need; they buy what they want. 

One of the biggest things about poverty is this: firstly, it is a generational change.  It takes a generation to march a community out of poverty.  Secondly, people have to be involved in their own redemption to learn the lessons.  You cannot come from a poor community, have things done for you and then teach your children what was done for you.  You need to have experience, your children need to see you experience those things go forward.  It is why unemployment becomes generational.  If your children do not see you work, they do not experience the value and the social capital from working.  They need to see you; they need to hear about your working.  You need to be involved in that.  Where I come from nobody runs anything, so they do not try to run anything. 

The whole point about the Big Society project—and here is where Polly's point is slightly wrong—is that it is not about abandoning the public to themselves.  We have a system of councils in this country, much closer to communities than central Government, and they are to administer this in myriad ways, as they see fit, because they are far better than central Government because they are closer.  That is at least the technical idea: they are closer and they have a better idea.  In areas, Polly, where there is the least social capital—this is where I do agree—in the areas where people need to volunteer and learn the most, that is where you give the council and social organisations more resource as well as money to pick that up and pay them the respect to let them know it will take time.  I also agree, Polly, with your 10-year projects; it is not a two-minute thing.  It is 10, 15 to 20 years.

Q25 Nick de Bois: A question first for Polly Toynbee, if I may. Do you not think you demonstrate an extraordinary arrogance when you seem to dismiss the ability of communities to decide what they want, and seem to believe it is the state that knows best, particularly after 13 years?

Polly Toynbee: What I have just said about the NDC is that the whole point was that it was so difficult to give money to the communities themselves to form their own committees—the main committee and then lots of others—and bring them in.  You really need to look at this and how it was done.  It was entirely about local empowerment, and it was very scary. The Treasury and everybody thought, "What do you mean giving money to the local community in the very places where there is the least trust?"  It can be done.  All right, it does not necessarily have to be done at that cost or in that way, except that the fact that there was money was what drew people to trust enough to believe and join and give a huge amount of their time and effort. 

Absolutely heroic local champions were created and came forward because they could see that this was not going to be a talking shop and something was going to come of this.  They had control, and if they wanted outside professionals they hired them.  They chose who they thought they needed—somebody to do x, perhaps to help with a particular employment programme on a local estate or whatever it was they wanted on their estate.  There is no point in doing it if it does not have buy-in because the process itself is part of the outcome: the process of getting people involved, letting them take control and make their own decisions, is part of the outcome of what makes that place better for everybody to live in.

Q26 Chair: It sounds like you should be a Big Society Ambassador.

Polly Toynbee:  I never said the Big Society as a concept was a bad idea.  If I called it a joke, I meant in terms of on the one hand Cameron saying, "Here is the Big Society", and the other hand saying, "By the way, I am cutting all money for things like TimeBank," which has mobilised 300,000 volunteers, and for all sorts of charities and voluntary organisations really dug in on the ground."  All of you as MPs must be seeing it in your patch—losing funds that are doing exactly what the Big Society should do.  So the joke is not that it is a bad idea but that you are not giving anything with one hand; you are talking with one hand and taking the money away with the other.

Chair: That is the dilemma we are in.

Q27 Nick de Bois: Mr Kruger, I have a note that you described the Big Society as—I hope I have this right—"too abstract and granular for our politics".  Is that a fatal flaw for the policy?

Danny Kruger: What we are encountering is the failure of that term to get a lot of traction in terms of comprehension.  When I said "too abstract and too granular", it is opposite problems.  On one level it is very abstract—it is an airy­fairy concept—and on the other it is too granular: it is about parks and post offices and pubs.  It is not at the sort of scale that we normally talk at in political terms, like NHS, or schools or whatever.  It is very up there, but also incredibly local. 

The fact is it is very difficult to communicate new thinking.  It is a huge concept: it is a policy agenda, it is a philosophy.  In many ways it is not even new, because this is traditional Conservatism to my mind.  It also has deep roots in the Labour movement, and they can and do claim part of it.  So I think, as a PR exercise, it was never going to be successful: we saw that in the general election when it was the main theme of the Tory campaign and it did not really go down well on the doorstep.  Yet the media, who were looking for some other way of identifying and defining what this Government stand for, rather than just the deficit reduction agenda, naturally looked at this, and they were right to do so because David Cameron is absolutely passionate about it.  He was saying again yesterday that he has not been put off by people saying it is dead and no one understands it.  As to the idea that he has re­launched it four times, as we all know it takes 100 times before these things enter the public mind.  He is going to re­launch and re­launch it.  It is more about whether it will work; whether stuff happens on the ground.  I think this goes with the grain of human nature, this is what people want, and the polls show that people do not understand it.  I think they do understand it; they just do not like it coming from politicians.  They do not like the sense of it being a top-down agenda.

Q28 Nick de Bois: Do you think that it is going to take evidence on the ground for it to get momentum, for it to be understood, and how critical is it that it is understood?  Perhaps it is more that it has a slow growth.

Danny Kruger:  I think that is right, and I think in four years' time at the next election David Cameron will be going round saying, "Here is the Big Society, here is the Big Society, here is the Big Society."

Q29 Nick de Bois: What did you mean by, "It needs a revolutionary leader to succeed"?  Are we talking Che Guevara in the Cabinet stuff here?

Danny Kruger:  Thank you for digging out my old articles.  I think there was a time when it looked like David Cameron might be slightly wimping out on the Big Society.  He has recovered his courage on it and is promoting it very vigorously.  I do think that, although it is essentially a bottom-up movement—it is an anti­politics movement; it is saying that central Government is not the answer—nevertheless there is a role for the state as the leader of our country and as a cultural promoter of the good and the true and the just, and that is what the Prime Minister should be doing, and I think he does.  I think he speaks very bravely.

Chair: Lord Glasman, do you want to chip in there?  No; okay.

Q30 Paul Flynn: I think we all greatly admire your work, Mr Kruger, but the reality is that on the question of recidivism, of drugs in prison, there has been no progress in 40 years, and we have a Home Secretary now who does want to have revolutionary change.  The history has proved that Home Secretaries caught in possession of intelligent ideas have brief ministerial careers.  Do you really think that someone with all the baggage of the Tory party over the years can come in? They do believe that they are in year zero, they do believe they are Maoist, and they are getting all the top jobs—the ombudsman, the chairman of the Statistics Authority; all on one salary.  The blue dungarees are coming in next, I think, but they do believe they are Maoist, they have self­confessed it, and they are going to make these changes.  It might well happen.  It does not work with some people, not everyone is on the same salary as the Prime Minister, but there is a positive move to be made.  Can you really see the Big Society, tattered and torn as it is, having any effect?

Danny Kruger:  You are talking about Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary?

Paul Flynn: I was, yes, talking about Kenneth Clarke.

Danny Kruger:  It is hard to think of him as a Maoist.

Paul Flynn: An admirable person—

Danny Kruger:  Yes, and I think that he is trying to do the right thing.  If you are asking whether he is going to stay in his job, I have no idea. I would have thought so and I would hope so.  I think he has the right agenda there.  I do not think we should underestimate that we are talking about politics and personalities. The courage and resolution of David Cameron on this one means he is going to keep on pushing at it, and I think that Ken Clarke is going to stay in his job for, I hope, another year or two and implement this revolution.

Lord Glasman: I just want to come in here.  For a start, there is no movement out there.  I just want to knock that one completely on the head.

Q31 Chair: Movement?

Lord Glasman:  As in a great movement for the Big Society, a social movement.  That is not happening.  Secondly, there is a sense—you are talking about repeating it—of a lack of seriousness in this, and the lack of seriousness can be told in the story of what happened with the bid for the Institute for Community Organising.  That is something I was directly involved in, so I can share it with you. 

About a year and a half ago at London Citizens—maybe more now, maybe two years ago—suddenly Steve Hilton and David Cameron would appear at our offices on quite a regular basis, and they were talking about power to the people.  The important thing about London Citizens is—and I do not particularly want to get into this debate here—we never took Government money.  That was so that people could have their own agenda.  The problem with the New Deal was that it was state-sponsored society, and when the money was withdrawn there was a great lack of energy.  Often the community bodies disintegrated.  The problem was a lack of ownership and a lack of leadership development in poor communities, Shaun.  That was absolutely the issue.

Q32 Chair: So the New Deal for Communities had some problems?

Lord Glasman:  Definitely. We work on a community organising, not community development, model.  A community development model brings in outside experts to give advice.  It is very much a Toynbee Hall model, and community organising tries to develop leaders from within the communities themselves.  That is the whole story.  What happened here is that we were told that there was going to be an Institute for Community Organising with £30 million and a curriculum to develop local leaders, and if you can give me just two minutes to tell you the background to community organising just for a moment, it is vital.

Chair: As quickly as you can, please.

Lord Glasman: I will be quick.  Basically, it started off in Chicago in the 1930s with a guy called Saul Alinsky.  The idea was that poor, local, demoralised communities would generate power, build relationships, and be able to act in Mayor Daley's Chicago, where they were completely cut out.  This was mainly eastern Europeans rebelling against the Irish domination.  That was the story.  The thing they organised against was something called settlement houses: Toynbee Hall is a settlement house.  The settlement houses were patrician-endowed places that basically educated poor people not to enjoy sex at all, really, but certainly not before a certain age, and to eat healthier food.  It was a paternalistic improving body.  What community organising began with was to take that house, the settlement house, and turn it into a community house that was run by the community.  It was a complete power struggle, perhaps the difference between community development and community organising.

Polly Toynbee:  Can I just say that NDC is not in the settlement?  I agree with everything you say about the settlement tradition, but it is a bit unfair, and we might come back to that, to say that NDC is in that tradition.

Lord Glasman:  I agree, I just want to go back to this story and we can come to that later.  That is a different discussion, you are right.  The point I am trying to make here is that community organising is based on building relationships, action and power: giving local communities power through their own leadership and setting their own agenda.  What is really significant here is that the bid for the Institute for Community Organising said that they wanted to endow an institute—this is a direct quote from the bid—"on the principles of Saul Alinsky".  That is a far out thing for a Conservative Government to say that they want to do, but it is true that they did that, and then they gave it to the settlement houses.  They gave it to the locality, they gave it to the paternalist "eat your vegetables, don't smoke, don't swear"—it was the completely worst side of Tory voluntarism, which was basically, "Aren't I doing a wonderful thing helping you, you ignorant poor person who needs my guidance and love." 

What I am saying is—Danny, this is the crucial thing—that that was a deeply unserious move.  Locality has no experience of developing leaders from ethnic minorities, poor communities, working class communities; they are very well intentioned busybodies.  That is what they have always been.  What we have here then is a commitment to an Alinsky-based community empowerment that turns out to be a paternalist based "eat your greens" kind of movement, and this is what I am just trying to relay, Shaun: this is the lack of seriousness in the move.  There is not a commitment to develop local power by local people through their institutions and organisations that would lead to genuine conflict.  That is what it has to be with this.  The thing that is missing here is the granular conflict, where people hold unresponsive local authorities to account, but above all, when you talk to the people and you organise people—this is just my experience of life that I am sharing with you—they always come back to four issues. Those issues are: I do not like the way I am being treated at work; I do not like violence on the streets; I really need somewhere bigger to live; and I am paying too much interest on my money.  Those issues come up again and again.

These are fundamental issues.  The one thing is, before we get into a branding—to Mr de Bois—before we repeat it more and more often, I just wanted to share that, if you look at my stuff two years, a year ago, I wrote really positively about the Big Society in terms of Labour engagement, but now I perceive that there is no intention to take on market power, there is no intention to bring on genuine leadership from outside the usual places, and there is a stress—which is wonderful—on volunteerism, but there is not a stress on building the relationships and the institutions in those places that could generate a more powerful society, and that is the nature of the disenchantment.

Q33 Chair: This is turning into an extremely interesting conversation.  I want to let it run rather than for us to be overly preoccupied with our own questions, but I shall just interject one point.  This sounds awfully like the problem we have with IT procurement—we are doing an inquiry into IT procurement—or defence procurement, or the way the Civil Service operates generally; this is a skills problem at the heart of Government, and this Government may well be having the same difficulties and the same problems that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had in trying to generate this kind of agenda.

Polly Toynbee:  I am afraid I think this was a political decision, because during the election campaign Cameron was out with London Citizens.  He went to their meeting and spoke at their meeting.  He knew exactly what London Citizens wanted to see, he felt he knew exactly what it was, and when it came to the decision it was not an administrative error—getting the wrong IT for the wrong company—it was drawing back, saying, "I cannot be doing with this because it is too authentic, it is too real, and it is quite scary."  London Citizens does scare the hell out of politicians—it used to scare the hell out of Labour.

Lord Glasman: And journalists.

Polly Toynbee: And journalists—not me.

Q34 Chair: But are London Citizens on the streets campaigning against the cuts?

Polly Toynbee: They will be.

Lord Glasman: No, I just want to clarify that.  No, London Citizens will not campaign against the cuts because there is a streak in London Citizens that is very hostile to a lot of what is perceived as the humiliation involved in a lot of public sector provision and is in favour of the redistribution of power to local communities in terms of accountability.  What they do is always in a positive campaign: living wage is the classic example—paying people enough to work.

Q35 Robert Halfon: I am fascinated by what you are saying.  I understand where you are coming from, but I do not agree with the outcome of what you have said.  I agree that the Big Society should not be paternalist, and I have argued that, for the Big Society to work, it has to support the little society.

Lord Glasman: Sure, but what do you not agree with?

Q36 Robert Halfon: You are saying that the way the Big Society is working from Government is paternalist and centralist, and your particular organisation did not get the grant from the Government. If you look at what the Government are doing in terms of schools, education and health, policing and so on, that is actually putting power into the hands of ordinary people, and giving them the decision and making them community organisers.

Polly Toynbee: Making who community organisers?

Robert Halfon:  If you are setting up a free school, that means you are a community organiser.

Lord Glasman: Mr Halfon, everything in this depended on a programme that could train—because it is a craft, it is a skill—local leaders from outside the mainstream who could carry people with them to challenge prevailing distributions of power, and build new institutions.  To call it community organising now is just false.  The training programme with Locality calls itself a community organising programme, but this is the worst aspect of re­branding.  It does not have a curriculum that develops relationships; it does not develop the actions in the reaction inside the experience of your people.  Community organising is a specific practice that we thought was going to characterise the Big Society, but it does not.

Q37 Robert Halfon: It is your definition of community organising.

Lord Glasman: No, this is not some kind of post-modern—

Robert Halfon: It is.  Your definition of community organising is not the only definition of community organising.

Lord Glasman:  Just let me share my expertise.  I need to clarify this; this is huge.

Chair: I think we can get too bogged down here.

Lord Glasman:  No, it is vital, because community organising is about leadership development, relationship, power, action.  Community development—which I think is where we have got to here—is not about developing those relationships and powers that would take on what the community wishes it to take on.  If you look at the curriculum of that, they are developing—it is development, not organising.

Q38 Chair: There is clearly a very important point about London Citizens.  Do feel free to put in a supplementary note to us on this so we properly understand it, but I do not think you can go into the detail of one organisation now.  Forgive me, it is part of the problem with the subject.  Mr Kruger, you wanted to come in briefly.

Danny Kruger:  Just very briefly, I am very struck by what Maurice has said, and I think that there is a problem if the Big Society, or the Government generally, does not acknowledge issues around power.  I also agree that issues around private sector power have been neglected because within the Conservative movement there is a conflict there.  But it is a natural conflict; it is a conflict within the human heart.

Lord Glasman:  It is great to hear that there is a conflict.

Danny Kruger:  It is a natural tension, and a fruitful one, between the spirit of freedom and enterprise we each carry, and the desire to belong.

Q39 Nick de Bois: Mr Bailey, I think two Big Society Ambassadors have been appointed, of which you are one.  Can you start by answering the question why does the Big Society need an Ambassador, in your opinion?

Shaun Bailey:  Two things: one is to help spread the message and help develop the movement.  Lord Glasman is completely wrong; there is a massive movement around this.  If you look at the Big Society network, it is effective and connected to hundreds and thousands of people in a way that I never imagined could be done.  Secondly—again referring to Lord Glasman's part—is to bring some of the reality into the room, because you all here in the Westminster bubble are breathing a different type of oxygen to what we are breathing. I use poor English specifically to make my point.  I am in there making points that they might not quite be aware of, and there is a big conversation going on now about commercial power.  I am currently engaged in developing a paper—I am writing about that now—for the eyes of the Prime Minister, to say that the Big Society has got thus far, and to get further we need to address—which is the single biggest point at this point—commercial power.  The need for an Ambassador is to keep people honest.

Polly Toynbee:  Can you explain what you mean by commercial power?

Q40 Chair: So that commercial power is about the relationship between the state and big business?

Polly Toynbee: Can you give us some examples?

Shaun Bailey: I will give you some specific examples.  I am going to talk about the concept.  If you are going to give all this power over, we are where we are, and we have particular mechanisms to give power over, so I am basically talking about secondment, big tendering, all the rest of that.

Q41 Chair: Serco.

Shaun Bailey:  Yes; so commercial organisations are set up to benefit from that massively.  For instance, the likes of Serco have legal departments bigger than most charities.  For that to work and be fair and generate some of the change that the Prime Minister is after, certain breaks, certain understandings would have to be encapsulated in the law and also in the guidance around that.  For instance, we are having conversations about, if an employee mutual wins a contract, we are trying to encourage—

Q42 Chair: We are going to come on to all this, but we get the gist, that you are injecting a different philosophy into the heart of Government.

Shaun Bailey:  Absolutely.

Q43 Nick de Bois: So your role as an Ambassador is more about arguing from outside of Westminster into Government, but to achieve what?  To get Government to shout louder, to do more, to change things, or is it just to inform?

Shaun Bailey:  It is from outside in, it is trying to achieve parity for the small guy, because I come from there in all kinds of ways of measuring that point.  It is also to keep them alive to what is happening on the ground: again, the taste of your oxygen is different to ours.  It is about letting people know that the Prime Minister does not think this is a new idea, he does not think it is his idea, he thinks it is a public idea, and a big role for me is to try to de­politicise it slightly.  One of the problems we are having is that we are childish with everything in this country.  It has been said in this room that we cannot have a conversation without the left or the right jumping on it.  I am personally of the opinion that this needs to bigger than our left and right politics, because it is about—for me—the poorer, smaller, damaged communities gaining some traction in our society.

Q44 Paul Flynn: I am grateful, Mr Bailey, for explaining to me that there are such things as councils.  I am aware of it; I did sit on one for 25 years before I came here.  Do you regard your own organisation as an example for other Big Society organisations to follow?

Shaun Bailey:  No, not at all.  What my organisation and I do has very little to do with what the Big Society does in relation to me as an employee.  I do those things, I have been doing them for years; I hope to continue to do them for years.

Q45 Paul Flynn: Could you answer some of the criticisms that have been made about the way you run your organisation?

Shaun Bailey:  Absolutely.

Q46 Paul Flynn: Okay, well, it has been claimed that 35 pence in the pound is spent on publicity, and 20 pence in the pound on activities, and this went up greatly during your period as a parliamentary candidate.  What is the explanation for that?

Robert Halfon: On a point of order, Mr Jenkin. I think this line of questioning has nothing to do with the inquiry about the Big Society.

Paul Flynn: It has everything to do with establishing the credentials of the ambassador.

Robert Halfon: It is a political attempt to undermine a witness, and I think it is totally out of order.  I think it is a disgraceful line of questioning.

Chair: The question has been asked; I am anxious not to get bogged down into this line of questioning, but I would like to give Mr Bailey the opportunity to answer the point that has been made.

Shaun Bailey:  All of those claims came from a very belligerent, badly behaved Labour MP. He spoke about things and those figures talk about things that people like he and you do not fully understand.  We—hold on.

Chair: Please let Mr Bailey answer.

Shaun Bailey:  Hold on.  We run a tiny, small organisation.  It had to get itself off the floor, and those things there were accounted for badly.  So things were put in different columns. People said, "What is activity?"  For instance, you are talking about things like all the travelling and stuff.  Now, they did our accounts as though that was our staff travel.  Actually, I think at that point it was over 400 children up and down the country travelling. That is where all that come from, and the detail of what went on, if people bothered to look rather than make a political attack about what we do, they would be happy about what we do.  That particular MP should really ask himself how come I am connected with so many people from his constituency and he is not.

Q47 Paul Flynn: Were you investigated by the Charity Commission for the loss of £16,000?

Shaun Bailey:  Absolutely not.

Chair: That seems to be the substance—

Robert Halfon: Mr Speaker, this is an outrageous line of questioning.

Chair: Order, order. 

Shaun Bailey: You show me where we—

Robert Halfon: This is a disgraceful abuse of the Select Committee.  A disgraceful abuse.

Q48 Chair: Order, order.  This is not the right forum to cross­examine the conduct of an individual charity.  I have allowed Mr Bailey to answer your question, Mr Flynn.  I think we should move on, and the fact that this matter has been investigated by the Charity Commission means that it is not—

Paul Flynn: We have not had the answer, I am afraid, Mr Chairman, as to whether it was or not.

Shaun Bailey:  We absolutely were not.  I answered that.  We never were and never have been under investigation by the Charity Commission.

Q49 Chair: Order, order.  Mr Bailey, we are going to move on.

Shaun Bailey:  Thank you very much.

Chair: We will move on to questions about whether the Big Society is a new idea.  Mr Mulholland.

Q50 Greg Mulholland: Thank you Chair.  I do not know about the Big Society, but we certainly do not have much of a big tent going on here this morning.  I would just, first of all, say, I think this debate between left and right is not particularly helpful in the context of this—I would say that as Liberal, which, of course, as everyone knows, is the real tradition of community politics, decentralisation and empowerment.  But at a recent Big Society conference that I was asked to speak at, I was hearing the debate about whether the Big Society is a genuine concept and whether it is a good idea, and so on, but I said that part of the point of the Big Society is clearly what people do with it.  In a way you might say that that is political genius, because the Prime Minister could say if it does not work, "It is not my fault and it is not the Government's fault, because the communities did not take up the idea, so you cannot blame the politicians."  But on a serious point, the one question that does not seem to have been asked, never mind answered, is how will the Big Society be judged?  What is the outcome of the Big Society?  In four years' time or 10 years' time, whatever, how will we judge whether the Big Society is going to be a success or not?


Shaun Bailey:  Some of the bigger pieces of work about the Big Society are changes in the law, so some of them are going to be easy to judge: what quality is the public provision around health, around schools?  Is it better, is there more of it, are communities more involved in it?  That part will be easier to measure, and we will have something to measure it against—what went before.  There is also what we want for the future: the number of charter schools, the number of mutuals, doing anything from youth work to health provision.  In one sense, that can be measured. 

The other part is it always going to be hard to measure, and that is the point, because it is about people, it is about happiness, it is about fulfilment, it is about involvement, and that will always be complicated and hard to measure, but that is the problem. We have come from a system where everybody wants measurement, and I get that, particularly with public money, but that measurement has often stopped us taking the extra step, going the extra mile.  It is why the third sector has always been able to fill that gap, because what it perceives as important and how it measures success is slightly different.  If we are going to do anything in changing our mindsets we may have to go for a slightly murkier view of what success is, because some of what a community needs and an individual needs cannot be fitted in a box and then ticked alongside.

Q51 Lindsay Roy: How will we know?

Shaun Bailey:  There is one big mechanism called a general election, which will let people know to a certain extent.  But people will continually agitate.

Q52 Lindsay Roy: Will the next general election be around the Big Society?  Is that what you are saying?

Shaun Bailey: If it is anything to do with the Prime Minister, yes.  That is what he said; it is not what I said.  He said this is what he wants to do and is doing as a Prime Minister.

Q53 Lindsay Roy: I am afraid just because you repeat the same thing four or five times does not mean to say it is right.

Shaun Bailey:  Put it this way: if you are not in favour of the Big Society, and you have the opportunity to vote in the next general election, where would you put that mark?

Q54 Lindsay Roy: I am in favour of the Big Society.

Shaun Bailey:  I do not mean you as an individual; if an individual is not in favour of the Big Society, at the general election they have somewhere to put that mark.

Q55 Lindsay Roy: I am in favour of a better society.

Shaun Bailey:  Exactly, and that is the whole plan.  My point is that people have an opportunity—several opportunities—through localism, through getting involved or not, or through how they vote.

Q56 Greg Mulholland: Chairman, I am keen to hear answers from all the witnesses on that particular question, so if we could get Lord Glasman.

Chair: In one sentence, what will be the mark of success?

Lord Glasman: I think it has to be judged against three criteria: power, politics, and participation.  If you had leaders coming through from new, different places that would be a very good thing, and if there was greater engagement in politics and participation of citizens in the power over their lives.  I think these things can be measured.  I think they should not be measured according to how happy people feel, how meaningful their lives. I think it is about power, leadership development and participation, and you should just check it and check definitely the class and community backgrounds of people.

Polly Toynbee: I agree, and everybody keeps saying 'it'; we still do not know what "it" is.  It does not have borders or definitions.

Q57 Chair: It is very local as well, isn't it?

Polly Toynbee: When you throw in the NHS and schools you might as well pack up and go home, because if everything that happens moves or breathes in the whole country it is going to be incredibly hard to decide whether there has been an "it" at all.  There may have been something going on in health, better or worse, or something going on in schools, better or worse.  It seems to me that this Committee needs to draw up some kind of parameters that makes it possible to measure it afterwards.  I hate to go back to New Deal for Communities—and also the whole of the neighbourhood renewal scheme—but it has been so well monitored and so well evaluated, if you want to think about how you might evaluate this—

Chair: Message received.

Polly Toynbee: —you should have a look at that because that really did tell you how many more people got involved.  It was an area of about 17,000 people, each one, and they could measure whether more people got involved, and how they felt about that involvement.

Q58 Chair: Mr Kruger; granularity is the problem, isn't it?

Danny Kruger: I would say that it will be possible to see, or at least to intuit, whether more people have more power in their lives, and secondly—this will be the key test for me—whether they are using that power responsibly, whether it has worked—whether localism and empowerment have resulted in a stronger and better society.

Q59 Chair: Is it whether these police commissioners, free schools and institutions are showing success, particularly in the areas where we know society is less strong?

Danny Kruger:  Absolutely right, and I think those are appropriately part of the Big Society.  I do not regard the Big Society as like a Department of State—a specific policy area.  It is all­encompassing.  Exclude foreign policy, and that is perhaps it.

Polly Toynbee:  Is it measurable?

Danny Kruger:  Possibly not, but voters do not decide on precise statistics.

Q60 Lindsay Roy: Surely it is not, "Is it there, do we have a police commissioner?"; it is "How effective is that police commissioner at carrying out functions?"  That is the same in all the other criteria as well.

Shaun Bailey:  Also, is there a mechanism for people to get involved and affect how effective that person is: stop them, start them, whatever?  That is the key thing I have found, from going around thousands of different people who agree, who do not agree, who feel like they have been doing it for years, or who have just started new things.  They understand that it is not going to be neat and tidy. They do understand that it goes across Government Departments.  If you speak to councils, one of the big things is that they realise "Actually, this affects more than one Department", and that change in mindset has been good for them and their effectiveness.  I would hope that the same people are involved in this sort of service, and can produce a bit more innovation about how we could provide public services.

Q61 Kelvin Hopkins: Apologies first for missing some of the debate this morning.  I have been advised to moderate my questioning because I am deeply sceptical about the whole idea of the Big Society.  Is the Big Society a new idea?  How do you think the Big Society differs from the Third Way—if at all—and previous approaches to community engagement and the provision of public services?  I have to say that I was, as a Labour Member of Parliament, deeply sceptical of the Third Way too, and in fact I thought it was a front for handing power over to corporations, but then that is a view that you might expect from someone of my background.  Can you say, is it a new idea, is it any different from the Third Way?  Is it any different from the communitarian politics of the past?

Robert Halfon: Can I just come in on that very quickly?

Chair: Can the panel answer the question?

Paul Flynn: You are not a witness, Robert.

Robert Halfon: What is the difference between Blue Labour and Red Tory?

Chair: We will come to that.

Shaun Bailey:  The Prime Minister absolutely 'fessed up immediately: he said it is not a new idea.  He just said it was a good idea.  He did not say "I made it up".  If we are truthful, there are elements of crossover there with the Third Way, but I think the difference from the Third Way is where we are now.  We have had things happen between here and there, and for me, personally, we have communities in this country that have been ignored, and I hope this is an opportunity to develop those communities to the point where they do not get ignored because they have the ability to go for themselves.  I see this as part of the mechanism for making that change.  The reason I think the Coalition and the Prime Minister are so serious about this is because it meant changes in the law.  It is easy to talk; but, when you start trying to change the law, it would suggest that you are at least partially serious, if not very serious.

Danny Kruger: Where it comes from—and I was working for David Cameron when the ideas were being dreamt up—is the union of an old Conservative tradition that has been revived in its turn by Iain Duncan Smith: a Conservative social justice agenda.  It is a union of that with the localist, more libertarian, decentralist, individualistic idea that other reformist modernisers in the Conservative party have been saying is the answer to the Conservatives' problem.  It is a union of quite paternalistic, top­down, moralistic, social renewal which compassionate Conservatives, or Christian Conservatives, traditional social Conservatives were pursuing with the more modernist, Portillo­ist, localist individualism, and that is the union, and it is not always an easy one.

Q62 Kelvin Hopkins: Edmund Burke argued that our primary attachment is to our local community—"little platoons".  Is that still relevant in the age when we live in urbanised society?

Danny Kruger:  More than ever; we need that desperately.  In fact, his reference was to social class, not to the village: he was talking about a non­geographical area of interest.  Although we do not want people to be identifying with their social class any more, the idea of identifying with interests beyond one's geographic community is more valid than ever, so I think within the age of globalisation we need little platoons more than ever.

Q63 Kelvin Hopkins: A third question is to Lord Glasman: how similar is the Big Society to your Blue Labour ideology?

Q64 Robert Halfon: What is the difference between Blue Labour and Red Toryism?

Lord Glasman:  They are two different things.  Blue Labour—I do not think it is particularly relevant—is deeply rooted in the Labour tradition itself.

Q65 Chair:  Is it detoxifying the brand, to use your term?

Lord Glasman: I think that would be a cynical but probably realistic approach

Q66 Chair: But you were equally cynical about—

Lord Glasman:  Just stop me, I do not want to waste the time of the Committee, but I think that we forgot about self­organised working class organisations.  I think that we forgot about power, action. It should not be the case that doing PPE at Oxford should have to be the criterion for becoming a Labour MP either.  We have to develop leaders from different areas: that is a very important part of what I am talking about.  We have to re-engage; the difference between Blue Labour and the Big Society, and then Red Tory—there are distinctions between those—is that we do, Danny, think that class matters, that there are conflicts at work, that capitalism is based on the maximum return on investment and human beings need to resist that and mediate the effects of that.  That is the history of the Labour movement in general; it is about the power of relationships and association to resist the domination by the rich and the powerful, and the way we did that was through democracy, not just through the state but in the firm, in the areas that we live in, and it was a transformative power.  Particularly I honour the south Wales tradition in this: the co-operative movement, the burial societies.  That was also related to a wider set of social institutions including the chapels and the Catholic Church.  So just to clarify: what is missing in the Big Society now are two massive things.  The first is the genuinely organising model; it lost the organising energy, and, Danny, I really respect the work that you did in that early period.  It was going there, but then it stopped. 

Q67 Chair: But why did it stop?  Is this a political problem, or a structural Government problem?

Lord Glasman:  I really do not want to—

Q68 Chair: I agree, but this is what we are interested in. What is Government meant to do?

Lord Glasman:  The reason why it stopped is, that if you look at all forms of organising, as soon as people get together and talk and act, they take on market power—that is living wage, that is interest rate caps, that is affordable housing.  I think there was a genuine pause and people said, "What the hell is a Conservative Government doing funding and training people who are going to resist, going to campaign on issues that actually defy the market?"

Q69 Chair: So it is a reality of politics.

Lord Glasman:  I think there was a lack of nerve.  If you look at the language of the general election, which I think was very important—I am not making this up, this was in the manifesto—it was "power, relationships, action, leadership". It was classic insurgency organising language.  There was a clenched fist there with "power to the people" next to it.  It was a genuine, incredible move, but once there was recognition that this would lead to genuine mayhem, genuine conflict, genuine messiness, they gave it to the toffs.

Q70 Kelvin Hopkins: You have introduced this concept of class.  Now, excuse me, but my simple view is the traditional view that what really gave power to working class people were two things: majority Labour governments and trade unions, and they have both been weakened.

Lord Glasman:  Both the Labour party and the Labour movement need to be strengthened, and they can only be strengthened by rebuilding relationships, reconstituting them in the areas—

Q71 Kelvin Hopkins: The confidence of workers was in, particularly, big factories with their trade union around them; they felt empowered, they felt strong and they felt confident, and they enjoyed life.  When that was taken away and brought down to a small community level—

Chair: But why do so many trade unionists vote Conservative?  I do not think this is a very constructive line of argument.

Lord Glasman:  All I wish to say in response to this is, just to distinguish this from Red Tory, that a huge amount of what is said in the Big Society is absolutely true to the Labour tradition.  I think that in the balance between a majority Labour Government and strong trade unions we have the evidence.

Polly Toynbee: Can I answer on Third Way detoxification?

Q72 Chair: Very briefly, because we need to move on.

Polly Toynbee: I think that the Third Way was a classic piece of political positioning, meaning nothing much.  It was avoiding, "Are you left or are you right?" and saying,  "Well, we will be somewhere else"—nowhere really—and it was exactly like the Big Society as a brilliant, useful political construct with no material, no substance.

Q73 Chair: So you are against the Big Society.  I am trying to get beyond this political argument.  Let us talk about what Government should do.

Polly Toynbee:  If what it is is an airy thing, we have to discuss its airiness.  What will matter is what happens when concrete decisions are to be made, so that if we are going to see power devolved to smaller organisations, things that are closer to the ground—probably not as close to the ground as that—you would look, for instance, at the DWP contracts and say, "Right, here was a fine chance for the Big Society; out of 40 big contracts, two went to voluntary organisations".  A lot of voluntary organisations worked really hard for years with brilliant results.

Q74 Chair: But this is about the risk-averse nature of Whitehall, isn't it?

Polly Toynbee:  Well, I do not know, I think it is about the power of big business, as Maurice said: it is big Serco and not Big Society.  But the PAC has actually found that all of those companies—the ones that had ever done this work at all before—did it less well than Jobcentre Plus.  It is there in the PAC's Report that came out a few weeks ago.  Despite that evidence, the awards were given to Serco, Capita, Tribal and all the rest.  These are the tests for the Big Society, and when it comes to any willing—

Q75 Chair: Miss Toynbee, there is a sort of oligopoly of large companies that seem to monopolise big public spending contracts.

Polly Toynbee:  Yes.

Q76 Chair: But that is a structural problem of Government: how should we address that?

Polly Toynbee: Indeed; you could say that if the Big Society was really at the heart of Government, if it was driving everything Government was doing, it would have made sure that that did not happen.

Q77 Chair: But how should Government do that?

Polly Toynbee: Well, you would, for instance, make sure that smaller charities and local charities can borrow money easily. 

Q78 Chair: So you support the Big Society Bank?

Polly Toynbee:  Well, if it was not so tiny.  But if you saw, for instance, Mr Pindar of Capita's interview in the Financial Times the other day, he said "Just forget it: there is no way charities are going to get any of these."

Q79 Chair: The contracts are too big, aren't they?

Polly Toynbee:  He had been reassured about the NHS contracts and the public service contracts.  "Don't worry", he was told by Francis Maude—it is all there in the FT—"these contracts will basically go to private companies.  A few round the edges will go to charities".  If you are serious about Big Society, you will want to find a mechanism—and it is not that difficult—to make sure that it is the small, the local, the experienced, the people with the knowledge.  I was on the board for quite a while of the Wise Group, one of the really good providers based in Glasgow, which failed to get one of those contracts, despite everybody expecting them to get most of Scotland.  It went to Ingeus and various others.  They will now get the pickings of the bits that are too difficult; they will get the drug addicts and the prisoners and things that they are very good at, with 30% creamed off the top by the prime provider.

Q80 Chair: Miss Toynbee, if you are the Minister and the civil servants come to you and say, "This is what we do, we need to let big contracts so they sub­contract to people, they have given us assurances that they will involve the charitable sector and do what they do", what do you do?

Polly Toynbee: You say no: if you are serious about the big society you say, "We are not going to do it that way."

Q81 Chair: What would you do instead?

Polly Toynbee:  Maybe you lean on the banks a good deal harder, making sure that small organisations can borrow at the same rates as big companies, and that risks can be taken.  You concentrate on all of the barriers in the way; charities are not allowed to borrow.

Q82 Chair: Mr Kruger, what is the answer to this problem?

Danny Kruger:  Central Government is spending half a trillion pounds a year: it is that vast, and it is not going to be able to contract with the hundreds of smaller local charities.

Q83 Chair: Why not?

Danny Kruger:  Because it cannot; because it is too big itself.  While we have a centralised taxation system, where three quarters of public money is handed out by central Government, we are not going to be able to have the small scale local commissioning that we need.

Q84 Chair: So the Government's aspirations?

Danny Kruger: I dare say they are doing as well as they can.  They can probably only handle 40 contracts in central Government.   You need to have some sort of parity of relationship between the commissioner and the provider.  Whitehall is not going to be able to deal with Only Connect, my little charity.

Q85 Chair:  I am not as defeatist as you are about this.

Danny Kruger: I think they should be handing over the real money to local councils to commission according to their needs.

Q86 Chair: Why can't Government acquire the skills to contract with small and medium-sized enterprises?

Danny Kruger:  Because there would be huge bureaucracy to do that.

Shaun Bailey:  It is a culture of being afraid, of not wanting to try.

Q87 Chair: It is being risk-averse.

Shaun Bailey:  Exactly; this is where the council mechanism and the small and regional mechanisms can and should be used.  Polly makes her point powerfully and clearly; it is true, and I do see it as one of the largest challenges for the Big Society going ahead, but the one thing I will say is, it is not over.  I would really like to believe it is not over.

Polly Toynbee:  Read Mr Pindar in the FT, and the guarantee that not only the NHS contracts but all of the public service, any willing provider contracts—David Cameron has said virtually all the public service is up for anybody to bid for—will go to the private sector.

Chair: There is something called the Public Procurement Directive in the European Journal for public contracts, which does make things very complicated.

Q88 Lindsay Roy: Polly very helpfully reminded us there is no year zero, and we know already that some services are managed and delivered locally.  How much enthusiasm is there on the ground for an extension of that, and to what extent do you think this is a top-down model?

Polly Toynbee:  I think most of these things are top­down models: I think almost everything is being decided at the top.  I have seen no sign yet of anything being allowed to come up from the bottom.  On the contrary, you see people say "Do not shut our library, our post office", everything that makes communities feel at all like communities, "Do not do this," and it is happening. They say, "Do not bring a great big Tesco in that is going to destroy all our local shops," but Tesco wins and the local community organisers do not.  I don't see, as yet—and I would be delighted if mechanisms are found to stop that being the case—that things that are really valued by communities, that make people feel that a community exists at all, are preserved.  I would like to see Conservatives conserving the very best of what is already there, not destroying what little there is.

Q89 Lindsay Roy: What are the views of the other members of the panel on the question?

Danny Kruger:  While the money comes from top­down, the decisions are going to come from the top­down.  So while George Osborne is ultimately responsible for handing out the funding, his people in the Department are going to be handing them out.  They are not going to do it with the responsiveness and the effectiveness and the local knowledge that they need to do it.  So I really think that the answer is probably quite a technocratic one about local government finance and local taxation.

Q90 Chair: How do the Government encourage the state apparatus to cut its own cloth rather than just pulling in the funding from the third-party organisations where they do not owe direct responsibility for the redundancy costs and the reduction in service?  How do we deal with the problem of the funding of the voluntary sector, given that we all agree there have to be at least some reductions in public spending?  Mr Glasman—sorry, Lord Glasman, I do apologise.

Lord Glasman:  It's okay, "Dr" does not matter anymore.  What has not happened here is precisely this: a reconceptualisation of the role of statecraft in the generation of new institutional arrangements for the redistribution of power.  We are stuck with the old state market model; so we have the centralised state with the money, and that does what it does, and then we have a whole lot of private corporations coming in to it because they are the only ones who can scale up and fill the gap, and society once again is getting completely squeezed in the middle, and that is why, Shaun, you have to understand, with a gentle heart, there is a huge scepticism about the reality of this, because the corporate power grows and in fact the state power remains undiminished.  So I think we have to go back, to really do justice to the Big Society, to really thinking about institutions and community land trusts and re-endowing areas with responsibility. 

For example, there are two areas I will speak of.  The first is in relation to housing.  If the Government could endow communities with the freehold, it would halve the cost of building the houses.  Then local people can raise the money to build their houses and they can own them.  That is neither state-controlled nor market-driven; there are market roles, state roles, but above all, it is community ownership.

Polly Toynbee: This is the Coin Street example.

Lord Glasman: Coin Street is one example, but we have to think about people having responsibility and affordability in family-sized homes.  It is the same thing at Dover Port.  This is a classic case, the case of Dover Port: is it going to be straightforwardly privatised and sold off, or can the Port of Dover be endowed to the people of Dover in perpetuity for the nation so they take responsibility?  As opposed to enclosing and selling off and privatising lands, how do we actually use that institution?

Q91 Chair: Very interesting debate.

Lord Glasman:  I just want to continue.  The second thing is in terms of endowing institutions.  In the Tudor period they endowed the Oxbridge colleges when we were behind in maths, in science, in Greek and Latin.  That was the story of Trinity and Kings, the Royal Exchange in the City, which became the centre of the City of London's predominance, and the Greenwich Maritime College, where we caught up and exceeded.  But we are not thinking of the Big Society in terms of endowing autonomous institutions in the areas where we are weak.  We are not thinking of endowing communities with land where they can take control over themselves.  There is a lack of real governmental statecraft imagination that would complement the aspiration. As we know, the lesson of New Labour—which Cameron will learn—is that when aspiration becomes hollow and empty it begins to sour quite considerably.  It would be really tragic to lose this agenda.

Q92 Chair: We have not really answered—I very much value that contribution—whether it is a mistake for the state to charitable organisations as contractors, which creates this dependency on the state, which inevitably breathes in and out of economic crises, creating this terrible hiatus in the voluntary sector?

Polly Toynbee:  They are not dependents: it is not money being given to charity as if it were a charity donation, they are contractors.  They are doing a particular job.   The local authorities have said, "We want someone to deal with young offenders", or, "We want someone to do a day centre for the elderly".

Q93 Chair: So it has nothing to do with the Big Society, they are just emanations of the state as contractors like Serco?

Polly Toynbee:  They do it better than the state, because they are often innovators, they often lever in all sorts of other things, they are often much closer to communities—not always, but they can be.

Q94 Chair: Using big private contractors as opposed to charities is just bad contracting?

Shaun Bailey:  You often get better value for money out of a charity, better understanding, and if the tendering process and the contracts are written correctly, you then do not lose the added power of having a voluntary organisation; if you force them to act like a general business contractor then you have lost the whole point of using them.

Q95 Chair: But is it inevitable that all the local authorities are going to reduce their contracts with charitable organisations and that it is going to have a bad effect?  Is that just inevitable?

Polly Toynbee:  One of the problems—to go back, I am afraid, to the cuts—is that on the whole, although Eric Pickles kept trying to blame local authorities for cutting charities first in order to protect their own workers, when you looked at it, and there is plenty of evidence on this, the problem is that the charities on the whole were doing the work that was not statutory. So they were doing youth work, and youth work is not statutory, so the first thing the council cuts is youth work.

Q96 Chair: This is a localism problem; too much central control.

Polly Toynbee:  No, it is not about localism, it is not about that, it is about the services that they provide.

Q97 Chair: Yes, but if the Government are telling them to do some things and not others—

Polly Toynbee: Well, the Government tell them you must stop old people dying at home and you must stop children being killed by their families, so you start with some very basic safety questions that are statutory—not all that much is statutory—but what is discretionary is inevitably going to go first, and that tends to be what the voluntary sector does.

Q98 Paul Flynn: As the Ambassador for David Cameron, Mr Bailey, you were reported as commenting that the voluntary sector critics of Government reductions in spending were—and I quote—"a few people with their vested interests who thought they were going to make a lot of money".  Stephen Bubb, who represents the voluntary organisations, described your remark as "a disgusting slur on the work of some of our country's most loved and most effective institutions".   Do you regret that remark?

Shaun Bailey:  No.  The point is directly aimed at a particular statement that was made to me about a particular charity and particular group of people.

Q99 Paul Flynn: Who were they?

Shaun Bailey: Hold on.  It was in relation to the fact that their objection was that under the Big Society their relationship with the Government would be changed and they would no longer be receiving the large amount of funding that they were going to receive.

Q100 Paul Flynn: Do you not acknowledge that the funding they received was used to do the good works that they were doing?

Shaun Bailey:  Yes, but the point is this: the funding that was available to the entire country was retracting, and you can always get into a conversation of, "Is your work any more important than mine?  I believe mine is the most important in the world, you believe yours is the most important in the world."  It leaves the Government with some very tough decisions to make, and that was a decision that was made.  That particular group of people spoke about it as if they had been short-changed and robbed, but if you run this country you always have to make tough decisions, asking, "Are you any more worthy than the next charity down the road?"

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 December 2011