The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Altogether Better (BS 69)

1.  A definition of what the "Big Society" is or should be

Big Society should be an outcome for a country whose communities are mobilised and engaged in all aspects of shaping and delivering a cohesive, healthy and happy society!

2.  The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society

Without effective support and infrastructure, the policies designed to achieve "Big Society" will lead to further inequalities which is detrimental to all (as explored in publications and investigations such as the Spirit Level and the Marmot Review). The results of the public expenditure cuts at the coalface are significant loss of capacity, skills and experience across both public and voluntary and community sector. Many smaller voluntary and community supporting organisations are no longer sustainable leading which will mean many communities will be less able to respond to opportunities such as community rights. This is compounded by the fact that networks which used to bring individuals and organisations together to share resources and knowledge and spark off ideas and solutions are disappearing.

3.  The role of and capacity for the voluntary and community sector to deliver local public services including the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour to subsidise costs

Co-production across the public and voluntary and community sector in terms of shaping and delivering has huge potential to more effectively and efficiently reach disadvantaged communities. Barriers such as size, capacity, commissioning approaches and speed of change all need to be addressed in order to unlock this potential.

The likelihood is that the opportunity to deliver public services will be secured by large private sector businesses which will not achieve Big Society as we have defined it above. There is a risk that communities will become further disengaged and disenfranchised if the quality and equality aspects of public services fall when delivered by large national companies without social and ethical objectives.

Altogether Better Community Health Champions is a proven co-production approach with huge potential for the public, private and voluntary and community sector to shape and deliver a more effective health system. See for further information including evidence reviews and evaluation summary undertaken by Leeds Metropolitan University.

4.  Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government

There needs to be supporting infrastructure to enable the voluntary and community sector to work together to achieve economies of scale and quality of service deliver around aspects such as HR, business planning and innovation and development.

8.  The place of local authorities in the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities and the role democratically elected local councillors should play

Local elected councillors and officers will need training and development support to learn how to effectively plan and commission the voluntary and community sector to deliver services.

9.  Potential conflicts with other aspects of public service delivery, such as individual focus of personalised public services or universal provision and uniform standards of public services (ie avoiding postcode lotteries)

There is an inherent conflict in Big Society policy if it is trying to achieve uniformity in standards and empower communities to shape and deliver services around their own needs, aspirations and resources. This could become controversial and dangerous in aspects of service deliver such as health and well-being and education. Two key aspects need to be incorporated into this policy - enhanced supporting infrastructure where communities are less able to mobilise and manage public services and secondly effectively responsive systems for commissioning of services.

March 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 December 2011