Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

After eight years of frenzied blogging at this site, Transition Culture has moved to its new home. Do come and join us, but feel free to also browse this now-archived site and use the shop. Thanks for all your support, comments and input so far, and see you soon.


8 Dec 2010

A Transition Take on the Big Society (seeking comments and input)

One of the actions from the day held by Transition Network in Bristol in September to reflect on the Big Society was to produce a document on what was raised there.  Peter Lipman and myself took on that task , and, based on the thoughts and ideas generated at the day, have produced the following, entitled “A Transition Take on the Big Society”.  We would love your thoughts and input… please use the comments box below…

What is Transition Network?

Transition Network was set up in 2007 to inspire, support, network and train Transition initiatives around the world.  Its stated objective is … “to catalyse and support community responses to peak oil and climate change, building resilience and happiness”. There are now 320 formal Transition initiatives around the world, and many more ‘mullers’, those mulling whether to become formal or not.  It is motivated by the twin issues of peak oil and climate change, and argues that these two issues mean that the world will be inherently more localised, and that at present our communities exist with a perilous absence of resilience.  Transition initiatives around the world are busy creating local food projects, looking at street-by-street behaviour change, working with their councils, and much more.  As Madeline Bunting, writing in the Guardian, wrote in 2009:

“…if  you want to catch a glimpse of the kinds of places outside the political mainstream where the new politics might be incubated, take a look at the Transition movement … it isn’t so hard to see why politicians are so interested.  The Transition movement is engaging people in a way that conventional politics is failing to do.  It generates emotions that have not been seen in political life for a long time: enthusiasm, idealism and passionate commitment”.

So, what is the Big Society?

In this piece we’ll be looking at the Big Society but also other, closely associated strands of the coalition government’s policies, such as localism, deregulation and spending cuts.  David Cameron, on launching the Tory manifesto before the election,  contrasted the “big society” with “big government”, and described a big society as one “where people ask not ‘who’s going to make things better?’ but ‘how can I – and how can we together – make things better?’”  Although what it will actually mean in practice is still emerging, some underlying core principles appear to be that:

  • state intervention/regulation which is meant to promote social cohesion/capital actually corrodes it
  • the voluntary/community sector is better placed to improve society than is the state, and the private sector can help ensure that this is done efficiently
  • there are no rights without a responsibility to consider the rights of others.

Therefore government tells us that it will reform the public sector, empower communities and bolster philanthropic action, acting on “what the state can do for you, what we can do for ourselves and what we can do for others”.  What will this mean in practice?  Rolling back the state, including abolishing state agencies and looking for solutions to social breakdown involving third sector and social enterprises partnering local public and private sectors.  In addition there appears to be a strong assumption that the private sector will be led by the market to being socially minded (and so that it is best to de-regulate).

Communities will gain 3 core rights under the Big Society – to buy (save), to bid and to build.  Apparently the right to buy will enable communities to save local facilities and services threatened with closure, the right to bid will be a right to take over local state-run services and that to build will be a right to decide on planning issues.

All of this thinking is linked to current government thinking about promotion of localism and cutting budgets, and brings with it significant threats and potential opportunities.  The former include a strong likelihood that more locally driven agendas could ignore wider societal goals such as acting on climate change and energy security.  Further, there appears to be an assumption at the heart of the Big Society that if you make powers available to people they will have the time and the capacity to use them.

Crucially this whole agenda is likely to be associated with the removal of state intervention and funding without real provision for needed projects – where’s the money?  At the moment it is hard to see how the planned cuts in government spending won’t completely undermine some of the objectives we’re being told are integral to the Big Society.  The Big Society is aimed at people in more deprived areas, areas where parenting programmes, crisis centres, projects that tackle crime, support groups, after school clubs etc. can make an enormous difference. Following the spending review many of these projects are likely to struggle, and it’s not clear what will fill the gap beyond an expectation of communities doing these things for themselves with support from civil society organisations.

And when it comes to climate change – we now have a legally binding obligation to meet our climate targets. The planning system could be used to massively support that by (for example) very stringently reducing the amount of car parking to be allowed in any new development on a national and regional basis, eliminating competition re parking allocations between neighbouring cities and towns. However we’re seeing many of the planning levers that would enable this being ripped up, with decisions left to the far more local level. In the face of a widespread inclination to short-termism and in the face of other, more immediate concerns, that is deeply concerning because we desperately need really substantial, urgent action on climate change.  The same analysis applies to resource scarcity and security issues, which from a transition perspective are best tackled by an empowered, active community level being strongly supported by national frameworks and infrastructures.

At the same time there may be opportunities – although these are not yet clear.  For example, the fact that there is going to be a whole new generation of community organisers supporting the creation of neighbourhood groups could be very beneficial. On the other hand, what actual financial support will there be for these programmes? Or are they all going to be programmes that are there to take advantage of only if you’ve got the time and resource to do so?  So what’s good about this?  It should enable engagement and participation and in theory more control over what happens to us …..

More about our concerns about the Big Society

Some of our further concerns at this point revolve around the following:

  • Business is viewed as entirely benign: there is an underlying assumption that business always has the best interests of the community at heart and that it always operates in the best interests of society.  While this may undoubtedly may sometimes be the case, to see it as a universal constant is dangerous – in fact the underlying constraint on business in our current system of having to seek to make maximum profits and grow connects to many of the issues we face today.  We not only need to look peak oil and climate change in the face, but also to look in the face the economic model that has led to them.
  • This is no time for smaller government in all areas: a core idea of the Big Society is the idea that power be devolved as close to local communities as possible while at the same time reducing national and other scales of  government’s sphere of influence.  While we celebrate the re-empowering of communities, we feel the contraction of government to be perilous in the context of issues which need to dealt with at a national as well as a local level.  For example, if ever there was an issue that necessitated a strong and co-ordinated response from central government, it is climate change. To give control over, for example, whether new windfarms are approved (the government is committed to a 5-fold increase in on-shore wind by 2020) to local Councils who routinely refuse them is a sure route to a low carbon economy never happening. There is a very real danger that strong local agendas will over-rule and derails vital wider social goals.
  • Social justice: what we see in Transition is that often those who get engaged, offering their voluntary time, are people with some spare time and with particular skills, and a confidence that their input of energy will make a difference.  In more disadvantaged communities, these things are in short supply, so the Big Society does not operate in a level playing field – for the Big Society to work it would require a lot of investment in beefing up social enterprises and the voluntary sector rather than a rapid removal of support.
  • It does not draw from the experience of NGOs: a wide range of organisations have many years’ experience of community development and of enabling resilience-building at the local level.  Yet David Cameron is quoted as saying “civil society does not emerge of its own accord”, arguing the it needs to be catalysed by national government.  That is not the experience of Transition initiatives the length and breadth of the country.
  • The underlying narrative is not transparent – or congruent with transition: this, for us, is the most important point.  The Big Society is associated with localism, cuts in spending and de-regulation as opposed to community-led re-localisation.  While we agree with the need to give more power to local government and local communities, how and why that is done is crucial.  What we have done in Transition is to create a powerful story, around resilience and localisation, around unleashing the creative genius of communities to respond brilliantly to times of great challenge.  At the end of this paper, we set out what such a story for the Big Society might look like.

Big Society Opportunities

There is undoubtedly much to celebrate in the idea of the Big Society.  Its emphasis on the need for greater community involvement in decision making, greater community ownership of assets, the rights to bid, buy and build, and on promoting social enterprise are to be applauded, but of course need to be supported and enabled.  Also, the emphasis on removing the barriers to communities making things happen is very welcome.

The Distinction Between Localisation and Localism

Often, the terms ‘localism’ and ‘localisation’ are used relatively interchangeably, but it is important at this stage to note that they refer to different things.   Localism refers to a decentralising of political decision-making. Janice Morphet[1] defines it as “a means of improving democratic accountability, providing a local mandate, and producing inter-agency approaches to localities”.

Localism can therefore be seen as being primarily concerned with governance, while localisation, on the other hand, is a wider, more far-reaching adjustment of economic focus from the global to the local.  Colin Hines[2] defines localisation as “a process which reverses the trend of globalisation by discriminating in favour of the local”.  Michael Shuman, an advocate of localisation in the US adds that:

“…it means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers.  It means becoming more self sufficient, and less dependent on imports.  Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back to the community where it belongs”.

We tentatively argue that localism therefore focuses on political structures, the devolution of governance, the application of subsidiarity to democracy, while localisation focuses instead on the practicalities of building more localised economies, in terms of food, energy, manufacturing and so on, which may necessarily include governance.  The Big Society promotes localism, but as it is currently configured, will only promote localisation by accident, or if communities take the lead and push for that agenda.

A National Perspective

As it is presently configured, Transition Network has taken a position of not endorsing the notion of the Big Society.  The lack of a social justice aspect, and the danger that, in terms of what are perceived as unfair cuts to public services which penalise the poor more than the rich, means that the Big Society is little more a small sticking plaster on a large and gaping wound.  While we recognise its potential, and the value of many of the tools being brought online, and remain committed to helping shape it if asked, in its current form we feel it to be something we cannot endorse.

A Local Perspective

For local Transition initiatives however, the Big Society may well be very useful.  Certainly for initiatives with Conservative local councils or MPs, it offers a common language and an affirmation of the value of what Transition groups are trying to do.  It is hoped that some of the mechanisms, and the potential of financial support via the Big Society Bank, are things that will be able to support Transition groups in their work creating social enterprises on the ground designed to put local, resilient enterprises in place.

A New Narrative for the Big Society

As was discussed above, a key criticism of the Big Society is the absence of a transparent and overarching narrative to underpin it.  In the context of the UK’s perilous lack of energy security and the urgent need to show leadership on climate change, we feel that were the narrative of the Big Society to reflect this, to stress the positive opportunities that would emerge from a national process of resilience building, strengthening local economies, and reskilling people for this, then it has the potential to be an enormous force for good.  We would suggest that the following might be a good place to start in terms of a new narrative:

“By 2014, the intention of the Big Society is to have achieved the following outcomes:

  • 2000 new community or social enterprise owned urban market gardens, on land permanently excluded from future development, running as commercial enterprises but also with a training component
  • 500 new ‘Food Hubs’, making local food available to poorer communities at cheaper-than-supermarket’ prices, modelled on Stroud’s ‘Stroudco’ food hub.  These would be community-owned social enterprises
  • 40,000 people trained in domestic retrofitting and energy efficiency, with a larger target of retrofitting every UK property by 2020
  • 1 million fruit or nut bearing trees to be planted in, or around, our towns and cities, akin to the Millennium Forest project, but this time based on productive plantings
  • 3,000 self-build schemes to be underway which use 80% local materials as a way of stimulating and creating a local economy around the production and processing of local building materials.

These are just some initial thoughts, but the idea is clear, that the Big Society needs to be about the reskilling, the refocusing, the reimagining of a more local and resilient future, one which actually addresses the challenges of peak oil and climate change.  This needs targets, it needs a story to underpin it, the story of a government, of a culture, which looked peak oil and climate change square in the face, and responded with creativity, adaptability and compassion.

Closing thoughts

We aim to find common ground with people whenever we can, while being clear about our differences at the same time.  In the case of the Big Society, perhaps the criticisms set out above stem from the fact that we and the coalition governments have different understandings of what why we’re in crisis, and  different visions of the future.  Despite that, from our perspective there is potential in the Big Society, a once-off opportunity for an engaging and supporting of community endeavour and a shift of power to the local level.  However, at present, it is perfectly possible that the Big Society will do little to impact on the communities being worst affected by government cuts, will in fact hamper any chances of a co-ordinated response to climate change, will do little to make local economies more economically resilient, or to reduce their vulnerabilities to impending oil price volatilities.  Were there to be a strong narrative underpinning this, as has been set out above, and learning from the experience of transition initiatives and other community-led groups, we feel it would have exciting potential.  This is captured in this oft-cited, but very relevant quotation:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”.


[1] Morphet, J. (2004) The New Localism. Town and Country Planning.  73 (10). 291-3.

[2] Hines, C. (2000) Localisation: A Global Manifesto. London, Earthscan Publishing Ltd.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

16 Comments

Steve
8 Dec 3:56pm

Illuminating, cogent and balanced – thank you both! One senses opportunity here but TBS is very slippery. Local authorities are likely to reach out to Transition initiatives for guidance on community engagement and capacity building (ours has) but as resilience is conspicuously absent in existing service delivery it’s hard to see how we might build it into the service divestment process. Authorities will struggle to maintain service delivery whilst reducing costs – can we really expect them to take on new resilience/localisation objectives at the same time? Perhaps the opportunity lies in engaging with emerging social enterprises as they prepare their bids? And perhaps engaging with private companies as they step in when communities fail to bid?

Hal
8 Dec 4:01pm

Dear Rob
Many thanks for this very helpful commentary; many people have been asking about how Transition relates to Big Society which I have not been able to answer. This will be very helpful.
I was pleased you got to presenting a proposed narrative which you begin to support with some practical examples. I would suggest this needs to go much further with the examples of practical projects. The Big Society is still a concept that lacks concrete success stories, which Transition can now provide. Success stories of real, practical projects engage people (media) more than dialogue around the concepts and will therefore be very effective in further informing public opinion and policy development.

I would suggest this another of your great articles that needs to go way further than your bog. This belongs in the nationals either as a letter or, ideally, as a press release that is fronted up with examples of how Transition has been implementing the positive strands of Big Society thinking for several years, and then leading into our reservations.

Need to listen to yesterday’s ‘You and Yours’ about ‘Healthy Lives Healthy People’. crying out for the Transition response. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wdgms

Have I ever mentioned that we could really use a PR agency?

thanks and best wishes
Hal

Ron Donaldson
8 Dec 4:12pm

I think you are making a mistake by not endorsing Big Society.

Big Society represents change, an opportunity to do things differently. The fact that there is no explicit narrative is a good thing. Let’s write it ourselves. Self organise, self realise the benefits of change and everyone is committed to an approach that may differ in relation to a local context but is moving step by step towards a new future. Look at the example of the ‘Big Society Revenue and Customs’ going out there to embarrass and publicise tax evasion. Individuals are attracted to its ingenuity and daring and feeling a part of something revolutionary and new.

Imagine if we could determine how big, and exactly where, a proportion of our taxes, could be spent on Transition friendly initiatives.

I took the idea of Big Society to be a huge pat on the back for the Transition Network, basically saying we want more of this. I don’t think you should try and second guess their motivations and objectives, just seize the day, take the idea as a compliment and run with it.

As a big fan of complexity theory I would not advise specific targets as you describe for 2014. Targets can detract from greater opportunities. Far better to stick with the broader objective “to catalyse and support community responses to peak oil and climate change, building resilience and happiness” and take every opportunity that comes our way while nipping in the bud anything that gets in the way.

Shaun Bartone
8 Dec 6:37pm

Being an American In Canada, I am not fully aware of the details of The Big Society proposal. However, it sounds very much like the Republican ‘Devolution’ plan devised under Newt Gingrich, which was carried out as actual policy under George Bush. It is basically your local, neighbourhood Neo-Liberalism

The hallmark of the Devolution policy was volunteerism, relying on local organizations and volunteers to do the work, unpaid, that governments and government-funded agencies used to do.

It was expected that most of these services would be carried out by churches. Churches, structured on families, were presumed to be the central institutions in any community. Funding and special rights were granted to so-called “faith-based organizations” to carry out services normally done by non-sectarian local government and non-profit organizations. Moreover, “faith-based organizations” were allowed to blatantly discriminate against homosexuals other “religious objectionables” in terms of employment and providing services.

So how did it work out? Pretty poorly. Churches all over the US are going bankrupt, just like every other business organization. Donations are down; unemployed people can’t afford to donate to churches to fund their programs. And no, people aren’t flocking to churches to volunteer their newly-found “free time,” otherwise known as unemployment. Church properties are in foreclosure and closing their doors, especially in the poorest neighbourhoods where they are needed the most.

What’s wrong with the Big Society policy? It doesn’t reduce the destructive impact of BIG GLOBAL CORPORATIONS which are literally raping the public purse, controlling all our resources, products goods and services, and hogging whatever public and private debt financing is available.

In fact, if anything, Devolution/Big Society policies only give Global Corporations even more room to cannibalize local markets. With greater deregulations, it allows Global Corporations to force more unemployment and underemployment at lower wages, and waste land and local infrastructure. Want proof? look at the USA.

The only way a government-led localism/localization policy could work-if at all-is if governments at the same time totally regulated Global Corporations enough to keep them out of local markets, and deconstructed all corporations that grew above a certain size (capital/market size) so that they don’t have an unfair advantage over small, local businesses and organizations.

Jo Homan
8 Dec 10:28pm

Good, look forward to hearing more about this at ‘Confronting Change’ next week. I must say, most people I know from TTs are overwhelmed by their existing projects, so the “if you make powers available to people they will have the time and the capacity to use them” is what resonates most with me.

Peter Wardley-Repen
9 Dec 2:12pm

The major problem with the whole “Big Society” concept is that such initiatives can only, almost by definition, work if they are initiated at the grass roots rather than being imposed from above.

A secondary problem is that most people – well over the proverbial 99.9%, in my experience – are not sufficiently motivated or public-spirited to take part, even on a short-term basis. Most people see the provision of such services as the function of government, or at least, “someone else”, and nothing to do with them. To take one example I can see right now from my study window, no-one in my street has taken it upon themselves to clear snow and ice even from the front of their own house, let alone anyone else’s.

The government’s hidden agenda, of course – as it was with the various share issues in the 1980s – is that once these services have been devolved to voluntary/charity groups and the voluntary groups have proved themselves unequal to the task (through simple ‘care fatigue’ if nothing else), the services will be offered to private companies to run at a profit. These will not be small, local private companies, but large corporations run by people who have either donated to the Conservative (and/or New Labour) Party, or who served on the various boards and committees by which the Big Society was set up.

Rather than trying to collect crumbs from the Big Society’s table, my feeling is that we should be campaigning against it and for proper funding and prioritisation of government services – not least because, by its very nature, the Big Society will fragment the effort to address the two key concerns of Transition, global warming and peak oil.

The phrase “shooting ourselves in the foot” doesn’t quite cover it…

Peter Wardley-Repen
9 Dec 2:15pm

And what Shaun said.

Charlotte Du Cann
10 Dec 12:17pm

Or as someone said at the recent anti-cuts demonstration in Norwich ‘like turkeys voting for Christmas’ . . . I think what Shaun is saying here about the US is really key.

Meanwhile here’s a local and independent take on Transition and Big Society published in the Eastern Daily Press this summer:

http://oneworldcolumn.blogspot.com/2010/07/big-society-or-big-con.html

Very glad Transition is not endorsing this for all the reasons stated. And more . . .

Simon Allen
11 Dec 12:39am

Dear Rob, Peter et al – This is a very helpful constructive review of the BS idea. And of course it’s based on Transition’s very relevant parallel experience. I think we should offer D Cameron, and/or the Minister for BS, a meeting to discuss. This would assist the BS idea and climate change.

Trugs
11 Dec 6:51pm

The Big Society’s lack of definition provides an opportunity for us to tell (and show) the politicians behind it, what we think it should mean. If this is the political flavour of the month, we should use it to develop dialogue with the politicians in power, but only to help deliver the things we think are important. We should stay out of “conventional” party politics and we “endorse” anything at our peril: our independence is a core strength of the Transition movement.

It’s a basic principle of Transition that over-reliance on a single source of anything creates dependency and vulnerability. We should not argue that “government should properly and fully fund something” : The principle of government as an enabler, rather than the sole provider seems preferable. That may or may not be how the government envisages The Big Society, but I don’t see why we should not interpret it and use it that way – to help deliver the changes that we believe to be essential.

Carl Gunther
12 Dec 1:54am

I think that you are quite right in your concerns regarding the Big Society initiative.

Here in the U.S., corporations receive massive subsidies at taxpayer expense, and in particular there is an unending military effort projecting the power of our corporation-supporting government into other nations that drags down the entire national economy.

Naturally, the effects of this massive transfer of wealth upward are largely felt locally. Those engineering this rapaciousness give lip service to local autonomy only to the extent that it enables them to further restrict the trickle of wealth going back to communities, but not in any way with an intention to reduce the torrent of wealth that continues to flow toward the top.

The many years of operating this system have left communities here quite drained. Much more has been taken out than has been put back in, and the result of such looting is depletion. In particular, children are less educated and capable than their parents were, the environment is contaminated, soil is eroded, people have mental and physical illnesses, and many are without homes.

Under such circumstances, even a proportional restriction of resources both upward and downward would be no more than a way of cutting loose localities that have already been damaged, so that they can die a lonely death without further inconvenience to the “masters.” In the case of the “Big Society,” the fact that it is targeted at “deprived areas” reinforces that view. And I can’t help thinking that those who devised that name intended it as a cynical reference to the “Great Society” of the Lyndon Johnson administration in the U.S., which involved exactly the opposite – a centralized distribution of subsidies downward to the less privileged of society, as a way of appeasing and coopting the social ferment of the 1960s civil rights and antiwar movements.

I agree that leaving decisions regarding environmental impact to localities without providing any additional powers or resources to them will cause environmental concerns to be ignored in favor of short-term economic ones. There is also a diabolical aspect to this, which is that because of the continued dominance of large corporations (as Shaun has noted), the localities may be competing with one another to provide the least amount of environmental protection, for fear that some corporation will choose to invest in a neighboring area that opens its environment more fully to such exploitation.

Although at first it seems paradoxical that the transition movement should resist the cutting of funds from central government for communities while supporting localization, it is no more so than the movement’s acknowledgement that fossil fuels will have to be consumed in the process of transitioning to a non-fossil-fuel economy. There is a big difference between supporting community autonomy over local economic decisions in a way that strengthens those communities, on the one hand, and robbing them and then leaving them to their remaining meager resources, on the other.

While the position of the movement on Big Society should clearly be the one that you have implied, this discussion does bring to the fore what I consider to be one of the movement’s central dilemmas: that transition requires a redistribution of resources downward from those who presently have them at the top to those who need them in communities, while at the same time lessening the influence of central power over those communities. The enormously positive initiatives that the movement has undertaken thus far have generally avoided making the kinds of “negative” demands upon government that such an inversion would require. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but it seems that the resources for transition have come from people’s sweat, and later from local budgets, but not from central government. There is a limit to how far those local resources can take the movement – especially in communities that are already suffering from exploitation and neglect.

As you’ve noted, the present demographics of the transition movement reflect the above reality. Only those communities that are privileged enough to have their own social surplus to invest, in the form of both human leisure and financial capital, are presently involved in transition initiatives.

While it’s true that nothing good ever happens without positive content, it seems inevitable to me that the movement will eventually be drawn into confrontations over resources with established dominance hierarchies. If we look at the experience of the Navdanya cooperative in India, that is a regular feature of their political organizing work. Am I mistaken in thinking that so far no provision for this kind of a struggle has been made by the transition network?

If there is going to be such a struggle, perhaps this Big Society initiative would be a good place to pro-actively make such a stand, rather than waiting for the issue to come to the more privileged communities in a way that, by that time, might overwhelm the fledgling initiatives there. And perhaps this could be the moment for building solidarity between the organizations of the poor and the transition network. Although I have no doubt that if you do that it will bring hell down upon you, and that many of those who are smiling at you now will be gnashing their teeth, or at the very best ignoring you.

Instead of a right to buy, one might demand a right to take over privately held resources that have gone fallow as a result of economic decline, or that are contaminating the environment. For example, if there is land that is sitting idle for a certain length of time, the right to occupy and plant it could be made to revert to communities. There have been measures like these in the new progressive administrations of South America, for example, under the heading of agrarian reform. If a factory has been shut down for a certain length of time, it could be taken over and repurposed for local sustainable production. There were factory takeovers of that kind in Argentina during the economic collapse there around the turn of the century (that eventually gained the partial support of government), as documented in the film “Take It.” If there is a point source of local pollution owned by a corporation, or that consumed energy in a manner that was inconsistent with sustainability, its failure to ameliorate that satisfactorily could cause it to come under local control, and the local community could own that capital equipment as a penalty and prevention method for the damage done.

These are the kinds of localization initiatives that would challenge corporate power while building the political and economic power of local communities. But as Frederick Douglass said in a metaphor that seems tailor-made for this movement, there are no crops without plowing up the ground through struggle.

Apparently the Big Society promoters would like to put the transition towns movement into a “volunteerism” box and use it as an example of how all defects caused by corporate and central government exploitation can be thrown back upon already overburdened communities. You are very wise not to step into that box, because it is made out of pine and headed six feet under the ground. But that leaves the question of what the next step regarding this issue actually ought to be.

Carl Gunther
12 Dec 11:19am

I’d like to replace the last two sentences with the following one:

You are very wise not to step into that box, but that leaves the question of what the next step regarding this issue actually ought to be.

That pine box reference was just a bit grim, and we need to stay cheerful, don’t we?

Paul Reece
5 Jan 12:26pm

Nicely written article, however anyone can criticise a policy the skill comes in stepping up and showing how you can help/improve it, what additional opportunities may the transition nework provide for the big society? By suggesting these you don’t have to endorse it.

Steve Plater
7 Jan 11:55pm

Business with the best interests of society at its heart…. good luck with that. Company directors are required by law (Companies Act) to put shareholder value before all else. Read “The Corporation” by Joel Bakan. We need to encourage the honourable exceptions like John Lewis and the Co-op, and get consumers to use their power to support them.

The Big Society so far looks suspiciously like central government delegating work to local level, but without the money. Probably part of the Conservatives’ now exposed privatisation agenda. See above re drawbacks of letting private sector run everything.

Nick Jackson
10 Jan 5:26pm

You say ‘the Big Society is little more a small sticking plaster on a large and gaping wound’. I would go further – TBS is a smoke screen, pure rhetoric designed to obscure the continuation by the Tories of the neo-liberal agenda, their ideological attack on the welfare state, and to make the working class and those least able to pay for the bank bailouts. The idea that all these cuts are essential is a lie. Our deficit has often been much higher proportionally than it is now. It was higher at the end of the 2nd World War when the welfare state, the National Health Service and free state education were introduced.
Keep building resilient communities but Don’t Believe The Hype!

Mike Harrison
11 Jan 5:02pm

An excellent article. There is no underlying narrative and the Coalition Government has misread community organising. It is not about founding community groups and running services. Community Organising is about equipping people with the skills and confidence to effectively challenge those who hold power based on shared values.