Every government comes in and has their slogan or catchphrase. The short phrase that they believe will sum up what they are about and will define their achievements in years to come. The new ConDem Government has their ‘big society’ but despite what is being written there is little clarity on what this means for the public.
Government speeches say that:
“We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.”
One of the key elements of this is the assumption that people want to come together. That certainly wasn’t the case when the last Conservative Government was in place in the 1980s. Then it was all about wanting things and getting them at all costs. Working together, working in a voluntary capacity and helping your community became things of the past and something that only the well-meaning liberals did. And what is the information that people need, and how is this different from the information that they want? Despite the ethos of the ‘big society’ being about people helping themselves in saying ‘what they need’ it still means there is a ‘big brother’ State that decides what people need.
The key element of the ‘big society’ as it has been outlined is to put the power to make changes back into the hands of local people and communities. But it also recognises that they have to take responsibility to achieve the communities and society that we want. Again, the assumption made is that everyone is working from the same values, the same principles and wants the same outcome. Clearly, with the challenge of the financial situation being able to get people working for a shared outcome is almost impossible. Again, in the 1980s the majority view was that you helped yourself and your family – that was the priority. Money was tight and the every penny was ploughed back into the home.
The Government states:
“Government on its own cannot fix every problem. We are all in this together.”
As it develops, the ‘big society’ will aim to garner views of collaboration to find a way through the economic crisis. Let us not worry about who is responsible for this financial mess, but let us all accept the responsibility for it, and for working to get out of it. A shared pain for a shared gain. It is the modern stoicism where we take the negative emotions and feelings and use them to achieve more wisdom. It is a world where we suffer the wounds of the social, political and economic situation and use them to make us stronger.
However, despite all the barriers and challenges to the ‘big society’ being achieved there is a glorious public-spirited element that remains at its heart. It is this element that is attracting people to it, and to being a part of it in whatever way they can.
The public sector has a big part to play in achieving the ‘big society’ actions that have been detailed to date. It is the public sector workers that are expected to get involved in social volunteering and will be the people making the national ‘Big Society Day’ happen. They are also the workers that have the opportunity to take over the services they deliver. Although exactly how this will be achieved remains unclear. And without doubt it will be the public sector workers that are providing the information and handing over the power to really make the ‘big society’ a reality.
So what does it mean for the police service?
After two years of the development of the Policing Pledge and single confidence measure that have now been relegated to the history books, the service is in an ideal position to help make the vision of the ‘big society’ a reality.
A whole range of information, data and crime figures are available through police force websites, at the touch of a button. In recent developments, Greater Manchester Police has provided maps and graphs so people can see response times to emergency and non-emergency calls. And there are ever-increasing amounts of information that are published.
It is the police service that has been developing ‘community engagement’ or to put it simply have been getting back to a situation where they are having conversations with local people. Neighbourhood policing teams are keen to use social networking to expand their options, alongside the traditional public meetings and police surgeries.
Neighbourhood management is being developed. This is very much at the heart of the ‘big society’, where all the agencies work together and involve the community in addressing the issues that are affecting them. It is not just building the community they want together it will build the Britain that the Government put at the centre of the ‘big society’.
The success of the ‘big society’ will be whether the new ConDem Government can keep the good work that has been taking place, gather support from all sections of the community and continue to communicate and articulate exactly what the future looks like. Only then will the new slogan become more than that and actually start to achieve results.