Francis Maude was very clear at the launch of the Big Society in Liverpool on Monday. There is no “top down plan”, there is no “grand scheme” – it’s all about lots of activities, at many levels, to further enhance community capability and of empowerment to residents.
Windsor and Maidenhead have been in the forefront of innovative and progressive government by virtue of our £500 spending transparency disclosure and online energy meters, our incentive based recycling; we already engage residents in how their money is spent through participatory budgeting, and we run an “Adopt a Street” programme for very localised litter picking.
But “turning Government on its head” is a fair challenge indeed. No longer should it be “The Council wants to achieve things for residents” – but “Residents will be able to achieve things with the backing of the Council” and certainly “Residents will be able to achieve things without obstacles being put in the way by the Council”.
As David Cameron succinctly put it, giving real “oomph” to communities.
It may be that it is legislation, regulation or risk aversion that “gets in the way”. Already I have examples of petty bureaucracy we’re imposing on local communities that could be lifted. One organisation has been told they must lock away cleaning materials from young people because of “health and safety” concerns. Result? New lock required, someone must hold a key and manage access . . expense is incurred.
Organisations must fill out innumerable CRB checks which all cost money.
Event organisers must satisfy safety groups of salaried public officials that people won’t be harmed - on top of existing insurance costs.
And we know only too well that as decisions are imposed on councils from above, councils impose their own decisions on local communities, but the public services could and should be delivered - and decided upon - on a far more local basis.
So devolving power – with the funding - to the lowest possible level, will undoubtedly improve services; they can be more responsive and specific to local needs.
It’s not about cuts, but improving the ability of people to get things done in their street, community, parish, town or local authority.
We’re excited to be given the opportunity to make progress.