April 10, 2015, by Public Social Policy

Whatever happened to Cameron’s Big Society?

by Simon Roberts and Bruce Stafford

Much was hung by Cameron on the ‘Big Society’. His notion of which involved citizens and service providers cooperating to co-produce, and in some cases citizens to provide their own, public services. Co-production, an idea that dates back to the 1970s, was presented by the in-coming Coalition government as a means to radically transform public services, implying a change in the contract between the citizen/user and the state; a shift from the passive recipient of services to people having some degree of responsibility for service provision and/or delivery.  The concept promises a lot. But a small scale study carried out by Nottingham University based on two focus groups of families with children in Aspley, a ward in Nottingham, suggests that co-production is not possible, indeed undermined by the Coalition government’s cuts to public services. To the extent that third sector agencies are engaged in social policy planning and delivery then they need the capacity to engage effectively in co-production.

However, austerity has led to cuts in the capacity of the third sector, and the Aspley case study shows, this reduces the capacity for co-production. Thus, in times of tightening fiscal budgets at least, co-production does not appear to be able to deliver the transformation to service delivery that Cameron had promised. Indeed, for co-production to stand a chance of working there is a need for investment in, for example, training volunteers and community infrastructure.  The consequence of this lack of investment is that important public amenities such as swimming pools and libraries are closing and public parks are left filthy and too dangerous for children to play.


Image courtesy of Duncan Hill

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There's no such thing as a big society
Posted in Big SocietyGeneralWelfare reform