The UK Budget 2011 is announced today and has been driving a significant amount of the current politics debate.
Spending cuts are a key concern for many, but some publications are taking a different slant. There is an interesting article in this week’s edition of The Economist about the ‘Big Society’. Please click on the following link for the online PDF version of the edition, see pages 18 and 19 for the article referenced in this post: www.economist.com. The article summarises some of the political history leading up to the current day, discusses recent political actions and spells out some of the ideals of the coalition Government. Summing up the main strategy of the Big Society: “It brings together three things: pluralism, localism and voluntarism”.
The Big Society: How will we get there?
The article outlines some of the fundamental steps that will be taken in order to achieve the Big Society and predicts some of the potential outcomes and consequences of these. Common misconceptions of the knock-on effects include the extent of reductions to the civil service: “Pluralism could lead to a much smaller civil service than anyone thinks. ‘Once you start letting people compete, it is incredible how few people you need in the centre,’ says one of Britain’s most senior mandarins. And, since the change is technocratic not political (the state, after all, is still paying), it will be difficult for a future Labour Government to reverse”.
The strategy also entails a certain amount of decentralisation of power to local government, but The Economist highlights that: “This localism is somewhat marred by the Tories’ deep distrust of local government”.
Learning to trust is not the only problem facing the coalition Government in the journey to the Big Society. Pushing the concept of volunteerism is also likely to present its own obstacles. The article points out that even some of David Cameron’s peers have their doubts: “Volunteerism […] is a big idea. The people around Mr Cameron argue that just reducing the supply of government won’t wean people off the state; you also have to reduce the demand for it […] In practice, however, the idea has flaws […] most people lack the time and expertise required, and there is not a lot of money around to help them (thanks to the spending cuts).”
A poignant example highlights a sizeable portion of the problem: “Britons seem to band together of their own accord only when they want to oppose something – such as the Government’s plans to sell off the nation’s forests, which they halted”.
Where is the money coming from and where is it going?
The Economist visually splits out Britain’s spending and receipts in the UK Budget 2010:
Source: www.economist.com page 19
How is it really going to work?
With a number of hurdles to surmount, the article underlines the key determining factor: Implementation, pointing out that the method is crucial: “Unless reform of the state is seen to be equitable and effective, citizens will not accept it”.
The analysis doesn’t stop there, but draws attention to two further issues: the Government’s breadth of ambition (“set against that of Mrs Thatcher, who did far less in her first year”) and that “most other rich-world governments will have to do the something similar soon. That is partly because of their fiscal situation: even America will have to start reconciling its revenues and its spending in the near future”.
“Mr Cameron, for all his haste, is at the front of a great wave” – we’ll be keeping our eyes open for the emergence of the next Big Society.
Read the full article here:
www.economist.com - See pages 18 and 19 of the PDF version of the edition.