The ‘Initiatives’ Series is here!

The ‘Initiatives’ Series

This series of articles will aim to document various volunteer initiatives across the globe. Blithely ignoring political-science boundaries this series will focus on any initiative (project, campaign etc) that effects volunteering. It will therefore encompass:

  • grass-roots initiatives
  • government initiatives
  • transnational initiatives
  • corporate initiatives
  • historical initiatives
  • contemporary initiatives
  • future initiatives
  • initiatives to teach synonyms of the word ‘initiative’.

Over and out and onwards towards the first ‘initiative’:

 

Volunteer Initiatives: The Big Society

The Big Society idea was initially a key part of the UK Conservative Party’s 2010 election manifesto. After they gained power through the formation of a coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party it became part of Coalition policy to promote the ‘Big Society’ in a number of areas.

The key tenets of the Big Society idea are localism, devolution and entrepreneurialism and the aims of were summarised by the government as:

  1. Give communities more powers
  2. Encourage people to take an active role in their communities
  3. Transfer power from central to local government
  4. Support co-ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises
  5. Publish government data.

As the Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time of its launch:

The rule of this government should be this: If it unleashes community engagement – we should do it.

If it crushes it – we shouldn’t

However its critics see the Big Society idea as just another Conservative ploy to cut spending to key public services. As the Shadow Cabinet Minister said at the time of the announcement of the new policy;

We welcome the coalition’s decision to continue our work in partnership with local communities, but these projects are dependant on funding and resources being put in place. It is therefore highly unlikely that civil society will become ‘bigger’ due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this government.

Encouraging volunteering is a central part of the Big Society idea and volunteer initiatives were rolled out across the country; in particular in four pilot areas. However as one union member in one of the pilot areas, Liverpool, said:

We are anticipating losing 6,000 civil service posts across Merseyside when the government comes back with its spending review in October……We are concerned this whole “big society” idea is a smoke screen for making a smaller state, cutting jobs and bringing in volunteers to fill the gaps.

This essentially encapsulates the main criticism of the volunteering drives that have accompanied the Big Society policies; that they are cheap alternatives to public sector jobs that serve nothing more than to paper over Tory cuts.


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