The Government reportedly feels that its Big Society programme has stalled. It is not surprising. The coalition’s idea of the Big Society often seems to involve no more than getting a few people round a table to discuss how the Government can design the Big Society. Philip Blond comes up with some interesting and radical ideas, but he is too suspicious of the free economy which is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for a Big Society.

The Big Society section of Number 10’s website talks about the importance of transferring power from Whitehall to individuals but the concrete action points send a different message. Key programmes involve the government establishing a “Big Society Bank”, a “National Citizens’ Service”, and government funding for relevant initiatives. The Big Society will only come into being when the government stops trying to create it and starts to roll back the state. The Big Society in welfare flourished when the state was not responsible for welfare. The Big Society in finance – mutualism and so on – thrived when the government did not guarantee and regulate the financial system. Unfortunately, Blond, Hilton and so on lack the sense of history that is necessary for them to appreciate this.

There seems to be a fear that if the Government leaves things entirely to the people not enough will be done. On the contrary, it is the case that if the Government insists on trying to manage the creation of the Big Society, nothing will happen. Whilst I do not expect the Government to liberalise the financial sector or roll back the welfare state any time soon, it can do one thing. It can create the conditions in which philanthropy can thrive. The Government should resist the calls to fund the Big Society by giving more grants to charities – this will just make charities clients of the state, but it should strip away the regulations that surround charities and encourage charitable giving.

Read the rest article on the ConservativeHome website.

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Philip Booth is Academic and Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary's University, Twickenham. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an advisor on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs and on the editorial boards of various other academic journals. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.

1 thought on “The Big Society will only come into being when the Government stops trying to create it and instead unleashes a tide of philanthropy”

  1. Posted 27/01/2011 at 12:32 | Permalink

    As the article says the Government needs to let the smaller people build the “Big Society” and not believe it has all the answers, which regardless of the political hue it regularly shows it does not. The “Big Society is about empowering the people and small organisations the governments role is to provide the environment to allow empowerment to happen and ensure that any obstruction, hijacking or manipulation by local/central government and big business is eradicated or at worst minimised. Government, like big business, is regularly shown to be too slow and cumbersome in it’s response to highly varied and rapidly changing requirements and environments and should limit itself to facilitating change and allow more appropriate organisations implement the change

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