Posted Under: Capitalism,Charity,Communities,Public Sector,Society,The Welfare State,Tories
When explaining the Conservative vision of the ‘Big Society’ to the public, Cameron and co. have always emphasised the role to be played by the voluntary sector (after all, most people would agree that charities are generally a good thing). The state, they claim, often ‘crowds out’ other non-government organisations that are better suited to the task of providing social services. Moreover, the state often does this in an impersonal, alienating way; Francis Maude talks about the ‘We are the State, you are the citizen’ mentality of the bureaucrat that the Big Society is meant to end. The picture that emerges is one of closely-knit communities all chipping in while Leviathan keeps its distance. Lovely.
Too bad we now know that private firms, not voluntary groups, are in line for most of the contracts to run public services in place of the government. The Independent’s 20p counterpart I (or ‘the I’, whatever we’re meant to call it) reports that:
“Private firms Serco, Sodexo and Mitie have been chosen as preferred bidders to run the Community Payback scheme for offenders, with no voluntary groups on the shortlist…Only two voluntary bodies are among 35 groups to qualify to bid for welfare-to-work contracts worth £2bn.”
There’s a word for this: privatisation.
Far more worrying is the plan by the American firm LSSI to manage public libraries in several local authorities. Libraries are inherently unprofitable (the reason they’re public in the first place) and to make the difference it has been suggested that libraries could open coffee shops and introduce self-scanning technology, a prospect that minsters have said they are “relaxed” about. So, rather than having spaces held in common by a community, the Big Society intends to liberate us by providing garish, overpriced coffee shops with under-staffed book-lending appendages attached.
We really are dealing with people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. A public library to them is just a possible venue for another bloody Starbucks; social housing is a real estate opportunity gone to waste; ancient woodland is just so much potential lumber. Luckily the British public isn’t putting up with it (most identified Cameron’s vision as a cover for spending cuts in a recent poll.) Let’s hope the ‘Big Society’ will be for Cameron what ‘Back to Basics’ became for John Major – a Tory joke.