There was much coverage towards the end of last week of Cameron’s Scarman Lecture which featured Conservatives accepting the concept of relative poverty, and the propounding of the ‘social responsibility agenda’. The emphasis was on attacking the "causes of poverty" and, following families, drugs & alcohol and debt, comes a fount of solutions: social enterprise:
"Well I want local authorities – and large voluntary organisations – to be more permissive themselves.To take more risks. To put more emphasis on funding organisations themselves, and less on funding specific measurable outcomes.To sustain the continuity of care, so that social enterprises can
develop proper relationships with the people they’re trying to help. And in the most deprived areas I want us to be especially proactive.
Just as economic growth in the inner cities was kick-started in the 1980s by Enterprise Zones with low taxes and regulations…..so I believe we need Social Enterprise Zones today. Our Policy Review is developing proposals for areas where the planning
rules are relaxed, so communities can use buildings and space more
flexibly where there is a level playing field for the voluntary sector to compete with the public and commercial sectors…where the funding streams for social enterprise are simplified and longer contracts awarded and where voluntary work is rewarded in the tax and benefits system."
Difficult to argue with much of this, and many small/medium charities/enterprises would endorse the sentiments and the words. Cameron even responded directly to the main criticism of this focus on social enterprise + the voluntary sector ("Some people may be nervous that our faith in social enterprise and the
voluntary sector is a cloak for an agenda of spending cuts to finance
tax cuts….") and there is evidence of a good understanding of the issues of state funding and its relationship to independence/innovation/effectiveness. His answer: trust/be open.
Can’t help but be made nervous by stuff like this though: "But I am supremely confident that as we allow communities to take over responsibilities for their own neighbourhoods as we change the funding system to reward creativity and innovation we will witness a fantastic flowering of social enterprise, the like of which we cannot even imagine today." Well, I’d like to think so, but I think a bit of underpromise and overdeliver is probably called for…. (though I guess not many politicians underpromise….)
Also last week was the Hinton Lecture (pdf), delivered by Ed Miliband. Provides quite an interesting foil to Cameron’s lecture with some similarities (user-driven solutions, third sector as haven of innovation etc) but also a strong emphasis on the sector as voice/campaigner, engaging and representing in a way that government/politicians cannot. Obviously the major difference is that the tenor of Cameron’s speech is about getting out of the way of the sector or the "letting them get on with it" approach, whereas Miliband’s is much more on government and third sector as complementary partners.
Public services is always a hot topic but I think Miliband is right to say that
"For those that do deliver services, it is important this doesn’t become simply a battle for territory with the state or private sector and focuses on the quality of the service. And the third sector needs to do better, working with government, at showing through evidence its impact and difference in the quality of service".
Absolutely. Michael Lyons was saying something similar recently…
Aside from public services, the two areas focused on were voice and building communities. There are some interesting points made here about whether it is better to be a unified voice (a la Make Poverty History / Stop Climate Chaos) or not, and about the networks of support that third sector organisations can build and maintain more effectively than government. I would only add that it is key that policy is rooted in practice (a point made by Nicholas Hinton himself, quoted by the minister), and that networks are key in this context…as support mechanisms, as routes of opportunity, as steps on a ladder, and to create strength through diversity.
Miliband/Labour are also getting a little clearer (braver?) about differentiating themselves from Cameron, which is to be welcomed, if only to be able to slide the proverbial cigarette paper between… Witness this paragraph near the end:
"You might call it social responsibility. And social responsibility therefore is the foundation of both voluntary action and a modern welfare state – not, as some would suggest, voluntary action versus a modern welfare state.
So my message tonight is this: progressive change can’t happen without you. But I also don’t think it can happen without an engaged government, working as a good partner at all levels."
Now I wonder who that "some" might be referring to? ;0)