The return of Big Society debate via its critics, friendly or otherwise

Just when we thought Big Society as call-to-action had faded into big society as policy framework – as reported recently by Third Sector, and earlier here – the Office for Civil Society has followed up on the open letter from Minister Nick Hurd, affirming BS, with a rather smart move.

OCS have commissioned four community and and voluntary sector organisations to report on what Big Society means for the groups they represent. In part this might be seen as consolation for the organisations having lost some core funding when they were dropped as OCS strategic partners.

More interestingly for the rest of us it will ensuring the the Big Society agenda is discussed within the sector in a deeper and perhaps more constructive manner than previously, when those voicing possible benefits were rather drowned out by those saying it’s all a cover for the cuts and/or there’s nothing new, we’ve been doing it for years.

This time discussion will be hosted openly by those who have, in the past, had to balance representing the critical calls from their members with the need to stay on speaking terms with Government.

Civil Society Finance reports:

Urban Forum, Voice4Change England, the Women’s Resource Centre and Community Matters have been commissioned by the Office for Civil Society to provide advice on how to make the Big Society a reality for their member groups.

All four were given an OCS advisory role in lieu of being retained as a strategic partner.

Voice4Change England and the Women’s Resource Centre have been asked to report to government on “the challenges that inequalities present to the Big Society agenda and how to address them; and the opportunities for tackling inequalities that the Big Society agenda offers”.

Voice4Change England will receive a grant of £80,000 to carry out its work.

Vandna Gohil, director of Voice4Change, said: “Over the next seven months we will be speaking to voluntary and community organisations focused on equality, to find out their experience and views on the Big Society.

“We have planned a series of including an online survey, meetings and events. Visit our websites for the latest information or contact us to find out how you can get involved.”

The OCS has also awarded Urban Forum a grant of £60,000 to gather intelligence from its members – small community groups in deprived areas – about how to make the Big Society and localism a reality in those areas.

Toby Blume, chief executive of Urban Forum, said his brief would also involve providing more detailed advice on four specific programmes and initiatives agreed with the OCS. These are: neighbourhood planning; community rights, particularly the support that groups need to take up those rights; community organisers, and finally open government and transparency.

“The OCS wants to understand what the attitudes, challenges, opportunities and support needs are amongst the community sector in order to realize some of the ambitions around the Big Society,” Blume said.

The work will be conducted in the current financial year and the organisations will report to the OCS before the end of March.

A quick bit of Googling shows that the directors of the four organisations have generally stepped carefully through the political minefield of Big Society. Congratulations to them all on this rather positive outcome. I’m sure they continue to be even-handed in their exploration of the issues on behalf of their members.

Previous items related to Big Society on Socialreporter

Update: I may have been slightly disingenuous in my first interpretation of OCS communications strategy. I gather that the research project has been agreed for some months – although only reported now. However, the research findings will be published, if not the advice to OCS, so it should be worthwhile exercise.

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