ECA response to Smaller Government; "Bigger Society"? Inquiry

The ECA has submitted evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) Inquiry on the government’s policy to promote the ‘Big Society’.

The Inquiry, which closes today, intends to look into what the Government means by the Big Society and its implications for government policy and structures. It will consider in particular the desirability and implications of encouraging innovative forms of public service provision by social enterprises, co-operatives and the voluntary sector.

The Committee asked to receive written evidence on the following issues in particular:

1. A definition of what the ‘Big Society’ is or should be.
2. The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government’s ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society.
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.
4. Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government.
5. The right to form employee-owned public service co-operatives including the resources available to co-operatives, proposed powers, and rules governing their operation.
6. Governance and accountability issues arising out of different organisational forms of social enterprises and co-operatives; and the participation of voluntary sector and community groups in greater public service provision.
7. The implications for central government and for the civil service of policies which require them to promote and to enable, rather than to manage and to direct, public services.
8. The place of local authorities in the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities and the role democratically elected local councillors should play.
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 (i.e. avoiding postcode lotteries).

In its response the ECA states that ‘We believe that adult learning is both a fundamental part of the Big Society - and means to achieving it’. It also raised points such as ‘There are structural and regulatory issues that Government will need to address if its aspirations are to be met without sacrificing the very bodies that are critical to its mission’ and that there is a ‘need for central government and civil service to ‘develop the skill of ‘listening’ rather than trying to control everything and of accountability that is proportionate to both benefits and risks’.

To read the ECA’s submission in full click here.

Date Added: March 18th 2011