Civil society rejects invitation to 'build the Big Society'

The government wrote an open letter to civil society in November, inviting them to be part of "building the Big Society". The Directory of Social Change has composed a tongue and cheek but highly pertinent reply.
Niki Seth-Smith
6 December 2010

The government wrote an open letter to civil society organisations in November, inviting them to "be the key partners in building the Big Society". The Directory of Social Change has composed a tongue in cheek but pertinent reply, explaining why the government's application has been unsuccessful. Dear HM Government,

Thank you for your recent application requesting that we join you as partners in building the “Big Society”, as outlined in your open letter to us, dated 12 November.

Unfortunately we are unable to progress your application for a number of reasons.

1. While you clearly understand your vision, you unfortunately did not articulate your vision with reference to the wider context of your planned work. By way of example, a number of our assessors raised questions such as “but how big is society now, and how big do they plan to make it?” and “their policy decisions are being presented as based on fact and evidence, when they clearly are not”. They also expressed concerns that the mechanism by which you intend to provide “opportunities” (contracting services) means every opportunity offered to the voluntary sector is simultaneously (and legally required to be) offered to the private sector, and loaded with other risks. Failure to acknowledge and reference potential competitors and include a realistic risk analysis lost you significant marks.

2. Your determination in key areas, though admirable, is clearly not enough. It was our assessors’ understanding that despite reiteration of your wish that your local councils do not cut voluntary sector budgets, that is exactly what is happening. Further, your stated commitment to The Compact is, shall we say, incongruent with your current interactions with the sector.

3. Although an outline plan of work was included as an appendix, our assessors felt that the lack of clear objectives, and the total absence of any measurable impact or outcomes, made most of the proposals quite unsupportable. You increasingly demand such information from those organisations you wish to partner with; our assessors felt that it would therefore be quite wrong for them to accept anything less from your own proposals.

4. The assessors felt that the proposals offer a distinct lack of innovation. While they were optimistic that some of the work streams held the potential for innovation, there was little evidence that would materialise. Several used the phrase ‘reinventing wheels’.

5. There is insufficient evidence of need underpinning many of your proposed work streams. For example, the only evidence the assessors are aware of relating to the idea of a Big Society Bank finds that there is no actual need for one.

Despite the feedback from the assessors, we believe that there is some merit within the proposals you have outlined, and would encourage you strongly to reapply, taking strong heed of the feedback we have provided, and paying particular attention to showing evidence of need, together with clear plans for how you intend to monitor and report the impact and outcomes of your proposals.

Yours Faithfully,

Civil Society

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