6 Choice, contestability and equality
of service provision |
132. Opening up public services to new providers
and increasing local determination of provision raises the prospect
of local variation in services. While Shaun Bailey argued that
the public understood that service provision would not be neat
and tidy, much
of our evidence spoke of the dangers and undesirability of a 'postcode
lottery'. Speaking for the TUC, Paul Nowak said:
What the British public do not want is a postcode
lottery, for example, with the standard of the services they can
expect to receive being dependent on the capacity of this or that
Mr Nowak's comments were backed up by evidence from
IPSOS Mori which found that
whilst nearly everyone agrees that local control
is a good thing in principle (85%), when given the choice between
uniform services and local responsibility the majority believe
that standards of public services should be the same everywhere
in Britain (63%).
133. It was suggested to us that if a 'postcode lottery'
did develop, more affluent communities would receive better services.
Kevin Curley, Chief Executive of NAVCA indicated that less affluent
communities might be less likely to have the skills to fight for
better services: to "level that playing field, you have to
find a way of providing that sort of support in the community".
The trade union UNISON argued:
Although there is merit in giving communities more
influence over and ownership of local services, there is a danger
that social inequalities will develop. Under the Big Society,
some communities will be better able to attract resources such
as private sector funding, and the result will be that some people
will suffer a comparative disadvantage in the public services
they can access, simply because of where they live. This re-introduction
of the postcode lottery is unfair, and it is a powerful demonstration
of why state provision and universal standards remain crucial.
134. The Minister for the Cabinet Office thoroughly
rejected the fears of a 'postcode lottery':
I always dislike the phrase postcode lottery, because
it suggests it is completely random. There will be differences.
Where there are differences by postcode it is because somebody
somewhere has made a decision; maybe the voters have voted for
different priorities in the local authority, or professionals
have decided to make different decisions about clinical priorities
in the health service. So are you going to see more differences
in the way things are provided? Yes. That is not just about level
or standard; a lot of it will be about different priorities, reflecting
what different communities and different people care about. The
idea that everything should be absolutely uniform across the country
in the name of equity is actually a recipe for stultifying mediocrity.
135. In its written evidence, while still arguing
that natural variation is acceptable, the Cabinet Office has also
stated its belief that "where variation in quality and provision
is outside the control and wishes of individuals and communities,
however, this should be tackled".
Central Government had a role to play in "ensuring common
minimum standards of service provision."
136. We welcome
the Government's commitment to ensuring common minimum standards
of service provision. If this can be achieved, then local variation,
which is inevitable in localism, can be welcomed if it will encourage
innovation and improvement in public service provision.
The role of faith groups
137. The Big Society project objectives of strengthening
links between individuals and increasing citizenship are closely
identified with the community activities and support found in
many religious groups. Indeed, the Prime Minister has been reported
as "telling church leaders that they would be 'absolutely
right' to claim that Jesus founded the Big Society 2,000 years
Prime Minister and his colleagues have been keen to stress the
role of faith groups in the Big Society project. Baroness Warsi
has spoken of the "intrinsic part" faith communities
will play "in the vision for a Big Society."
138. The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks also stressed the
link between the Big Society project and religion, stating "if
we're searching for the big society, [places of worship] is where
we will find it".
Other faith leaders have spoken less positively about the Big
Society project. The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the
term as "painfully stale" and questioned whether charitable
organisations would be able to deliver public services. The Head
of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent
Nichols, described the Big Society project as "lacking a
cutting edge. It has no teeth" in a newspaper interview,
in which he continued:
Devolving greater power to local authorities should
not be used as a cloak for masking central cuts. It is not sufficient
for the Government, in its localism programme, simply to step
back from social need and say this is a local issue
We're now at a very critical point, with the philosophy
of the Big Society getting clearer, but on the other hand the
effects of the cuts are becoming real and there's real pressure
about what will happen on the ground.
A government cannot simply cut expenditure, wash
its hands of expenditure and expect that the slack will be taken
up by greater voluntary activity.
139. In his evidence to us, the Bishop of Leicester
was keen to stress the limits of the Church of England's capacity
for delivering public services, stating that provision of services
cannot be an alternative to public service provision
across the piece. They cannot deliver the professionalism, they
cannot deliver the resources, they cannot deliver the standards,
they cannot deliver the consistency, and they should not be expected
to. But what they can do is add value, they can mobilise volunteers,
they can support initiatives, and in localities they can do things
that are small scale and transformational.
The Bishop further warned that Ministers cannot expect
"the Church to behave like a local authority or a Government
Charles Wookey, giving evidence on behalf of Archbishop Nichols,
[...] as far as the Catholic Church is concerned,
we do not want to raise expectations about what religious communities
can suddenly do in replacing any kind of state provision. They
can help, but they are only a very small part.
140. The Government's focus on the potential of faith
groups in delivering services was criticised by Andrew Copson,
Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, who reported
that his organisation had not been invited by ministers to discuss
how "nonreligious people could best contribute to this
new vision of the Big Society".
He also warned that in some areas, the work of secular charities
was being disrupted and endangered by a focus on religious charities
as part of the Big Society project. He cited the example of the
charity Eaves Housing, which he said had lost a contract to the
Salvation Army to provide services to trafficked women.
Instead, Mr Copson stressed the importance of working with groups
based on "streets, localities and communities", warning
that if volunteering and society building initiatives focused
only on a certain religion, or solely on people with no faith,
the pool of potential participants would be limited.
141. Lord Sacks accepted that while faith groups
could strengthen bonds within their communities, it was also essential
that the social capital built bridges across to people of other
faiths and none.
This view was shared by the Just Lincolnshire charity, who stressed
the need for the Big Society project to "to encourage joint
participation across communities and cultures".
142. Mr Wookey, speaking for Archbishop Nichols,
cautioned that commissioners should not insist on services being
provided by strictly secular bodies, warning that:
if we say that public services have to be provided
in some kind of quasineutrality, which often conceals a
hidden ideology that says religion should not play any part of
it, then you lose something.
recognise the benefits to society of faith groups taking part
in the provision of public services. While such provision could
be encouraged by the Government, this should not be to the exclusion
of groups who deliver services across multi-faith and non-religious
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