How Labour built the "Big Society"
Prime Minister's Questions, July 2010, offered us a clue in the ongoing quest to try to work out what the "Big Society" is all about:
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): In south Acton, the Acton Community Forum is piloting an extremely good scheme called "Generations Together", which is all about encouraging each generation to pass on its own skill sets to each other; basically, it is about getting the community to help itself. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is an excellent example of what the big society is all about?
The Prime Minister: I agree. I have to say to Labour Members, who sort of sigh every time an hon. Member actually mentions a worthwhile charity, voluntary body or project that is doing something in their communities, that we are going to change the way we do politics in this country. Instead of endlessly talking about the money that goes in, let us talk about the outcomes that come out. I think that that is a better way of doing things.
So "Generations Together" is an excellent example of what the big society is all about. We know this because the Prime Minister said so. Who came up with this wonderful idea?
The Department of Children, Schools and Families. In 2009. As part of the Every Child Matters programme.
"The Generations Together programme is seeking bids from all English LAs with social services / children's service responsibilities to submit expressions of interest, in partnership with third-sector organisations, for funding to develop demonstrator sites of intergenerational practice.
We want LAs to consider how they can utilise the talents of our younger and older people, whether it be for their own benefit or the benefit of the whole community. It is a £5.5m programme which will run during 2009-10 and 2010-11. The closing date for applications is 10 June 2009."
This "excellent example" of the Big Society was an initiative of the Labour government, made possible because central government allocated £5.5 million to fund it.
So when David Cameron says, "let us talk about the outcomes that come out", let's remember that these Big Society outcomes only came out because Labour put the money in. And if you cut funding for the education department so they can't set up these kinds of programmes, and cut the budgets of local authorities so they can't support them, then you end up undermining the Big Society and reducing opportunities for people from different generations to share their knowledge and experience. The outcomes stop coming out.