Despite Sir Stephen Bubb's blubbing, the Big Society is getting stronger
Sir Stephen Bubb was a Labour councillor in Lambeth who was surcharged and disqualified from office during the rate capping era in the 1980s. Now he is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. This is an outfit from which Sir Stephen claims a six figure salary, much of which comes from the taxpayer. Funds from the Government's Office of Civil Society to his outfit increased from £210,000 in 2011 to £425,000 last year.
As the "charity sector's" bureaucrat's bureaucrat, Sir Stephen has written to the Prime Minister about the Big Society. It is apparent that Sir Stephen's socialism remains staunch and he wishes the "third sector" to be absorbed by the state. He says the "reality many charities now face is crippling spending cuts." He speaks for the big charities preoccupied with lobbying and suckling on the teat of the taxpayer.
Meanwhile charities who find themselves defending their beneficiaries from welfare cuts suffer ministerial attacks on ‘benefit scroungers’ – attacks that they know increase public hostility to those genuinely in need of support. Rather than ‘joining the government of Britain’, they are told that their rights to be consulted or challenge government policy will be reduced, and find decisions on where the axe should fall increasingly taken in the context of a scrutiny deficit – at a local level, where democratic participation and the media spotlight are weaker, and with the central apparatus that would once have scrutinised those decisions pared back.
Looking through the data from Compact Voice from their FOI requests we see a great range in council spending on voluntary groups - both in terms of grants and contracts. Some councils (usually Conservative) have greatly increased spending. But decisions on this must be local. Giving a grant or a contract to a particular group depends on the circumstances and the merits of the group concerned. Sir Stephen's implication of a universal trend is highly misleading. If Sir Stephen is wishing to attack local democracy in this regard then let him say so? Does he want the Prime Minister to stop, for example, Knowsley Council cutting grants to voluntary groups by 81%? At the moment he just seems to be complaining without asking for anything specific to be done.
For Sir Stephen to claim that the Government's welfare reforms increase hostility to those in genuine need is the opposite of the truth. It is vast welfare spending for those not in need which has caused resentment.
As for consultations, it sounds as though Sir Stephen is making an objection to changes announced in a speech by David Cameron in November.
Mr Cameron said:
Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on earth.
It's not how you get things done. As someone once said, if Christopher Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be stuck in the dock.When we came to power there had to be a three month consultation on everything and I mean everything, no matter how big or small.
He went on:
So we are saying to Ministers: here's a revolutionary idea - you decide how long a consultation period this actually needs.
If you can get it done properly in a fortnight, great, indeed the Department for Education has already had a consultation done and dusted in two weeks.
And we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don't have one.
If Sir Stephen's claim to represent his members, in objecting to Mr Cameron's comment is true, that shows just how absorbed the big charities have become by bureaucracy. For them to help in delivering the Big Society a different mindset is needed - an innovative, practical, reformist approach.
There has been a betrayal of the Big Society ideal, but it is not by David Cameron. It is from the charity fat cat bureaucrats like Sir Stephen. Charities need to go back to their roots.