I AM trying to work out whether or not David Cameron’s Big Society idea is in keeping with traditional Conservative thinking.
In some senses, it clearly is conservative because its corollary is small government, a big theme during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power. It puts the onus for the delivery of care and other services back on relatively small social groups, such as community-based volunteers. This arguably is an evolution of the long- standing Conservative belief that families should be responsible for their own social care.
On the other hand, though, the idea that voluntary groups and private enterprise can provide such services is hardly new. Bradbury Fields, the local voluntary society for the blind in Liverpool, has provided rehabilitation services and social clubs on behalf of the state for 20 years. Indeed, Bradbury Fields was founded in the mid 19th-century by Mary Wainwright, who clubbed together with a number of like- minded middle-class women to set up workshops so the blind could earn money instead of beg for it.
Isn’t that, and numerous other social charities, an example of the Big Society in practice? Isn’t the Eldonian Village another example of local people taking control of their own lives and making a better society for their community.
Long-term nursing care has been provided by the private sector for many years, too.
So, Mr Cameron, what’s new in your idea?
I guess the Prime Minster wants to see the idea extended to reach all aspects of life, such that there are no more local authority nursing homes and all rehabilitation for the disabled takes place outside of the public sector.
Would this be a good thing? At Bradbury Fields, we (I am a trustee) pride ourselves on the belief that we do provide a better service than would be achieved through the public sector. We are certainly very prompt in the provision of white cane training to the newly diagnosed.
The other side of the coin, however, is that if such services are to be provided through a network of small-scale local organisations, there is a danger that the quality of provision will become a bit of a lottery, dependent on where you live. Patchy provision has always been the risk of ad hoc charity.
Another obstacle to the idea is the demise of any sense of local community. How many people these days know their neighbours well? People are wary of becoming involved with strangers. If there is no sense of community, then how can there be a Big Society?
The fundamental idea of greater engagement and enfranchisement by individuals with communities would be a good thing if it gives people a greater sense of belonging, participation and respect.
Despite the doubts and risks, and the fact that there is no such thing as a new idea, we have got to give it a chance.
It will be interesting to see whether there are any new substantial business opportunities to be found from it. I suspect there are, but it could take quite a culture change for current commissioners and providers of social care to accept the profit motive.
PREDICTIONS have emerged from Rightmove that the UK housing market is set to fall 7%.
All the gains that accrued last year will be wiped out, says the house sales website.
I hope this comes as no surprise to anybody.
The housing market will not pick up in a sustained way again until the unemployment data shows an unambiguous downwards trend, which has yet to happen.