The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. The Prime Minister has described the Big Society project as his "mission in politics" and has pledged "to fight for it every day, because the Big Society is here to stay."[1] The foreword to the Coalition Agreement states that the Big Society project has "the potential to completely recast the relationship between people and the state: citizens empowered; individual opportunity extended; communities coming together to make lives better".[2]

2. We undertook this inquiry to examine how the Big Society project was being implemented in practice. We have expressly not undertaken a detailed evaluation of the merits of the Big Society concept. Instead we set out to examine the role of the Government in enabling the development of the Big Society project. In particular, we sought to consider the policy implications of the Government's commitment to open up of public services, which the Prime Minister described as "more significant" than the other parts of the Big Society project, such as measures to increase social action.[3]

3. The objectives of this inquiry were:

a)  to consider what the Big Society project means in terms of policy and the implications for the role of Whitehall departments;

b)  to assess, in particular, the desirability and implications of encouraging innovative forms of public service provision by social enterprises, co-operatives and the voluntary sector; and

c)  to examine the main barriers to achieving this and how they must be addressed.

4. This report builds on the work of our predecessor committee: in particular its Sixth Report of the 2007-08 Session, User involvement in public services and its Eleventh Report of that Session, Public Services and the Third Sector: Rhetoric and Reality.

5. Over the course of this inquiry we received 125 memoranda. We also held six evidence sessions, where we heard from the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, and Greg Clark MP, Minister for Decentralisation and Cities, in addition to representatives of charities, voluntary sector umbrella groups, trade unions, faith and humanist organisations, think tanks, the private sector, and commentators. We also visited the Balsall Heath Forum in Birmingham and the Emmaus Community in West Norwood. This report also cites evidence received by the Committee in an inquiry held in early 2011 into Funding of the Voluntary Sector when seven written memoranda were received, and oral evidence received from Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Thomas Hughes-Hallett, Chief Executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care, Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, Justine Greening MP, then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Sandy Crombie, Senior Independent Director, Royal Bank of Scotland, Robert Mirsky, Head of Hedge Funds UK, KPMG, Martin Brookes, Chief Executive, New Philanthropy Capital, and Chris Blackhurst, then City Editor, London Evening Standard. We would like to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry and our specialist adviser on this inquiry, James Wise, Director at the Social Business Trust.[4]

1   "PM sets out commitment to Big Society", Number 10 website, 14 February 2011, Back

2   HM Government, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, May 2011, p 8 Back

3   "How we will release the grip of state control" The Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2011, p 20  Back

4   James Wise was appointed as Specialist Adviser to the Committee for this inquiry on 5 April 2011.  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 December 2011