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BEHIND THE HEADLINES OF THE NoW WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE COALITION’S REFORM PROGRAMME ?

Professor John Diamond (University’s Centre for Local Policy Studies) looks at two important developments in the Coalition’s plans which are (arguably) more important than who owns a national newspaper: ” The headlines for the past 10 days have been dominated by the phone hacking scandal and the fall out from that. But, really whilst there is a story of individual politicians or corporate bosses feeling a little discomforted this story is masking much more important changes in social and welfare policy and practice. And it is these changes which are likely to have a long term impact on Continue reading

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‘Community resilience: managing tensions, promoting fairness and developing community trust in the Big Society’

‘Community resilience: managing tensions, promoting fairness and developing community trust in the Big Society’.

Jayne Francis, MEL, and Harriss Beider, University of Coventry

Abstract

The large-scale regeneration programmes established by the previous government are being either substantially scaled back or entirely withdrawn; programmes and interventions designed to help eradicate poverty and to promote social and economic inclusion such as New deal for Communities are coming to an end.

In the coming months and years, the resilience of the most deprived urban communities is likely to be challenged in ways previously unimaginable.  The Conservative-led Government is banging the drum for the ‘Big Society’, whilst instigating drastic reductions in funding for public services, and overseeing an anticipated increase in unemployment and homelessness, along with reductions in welfare benefits.

There is, therefore, a potentially dangerous cocktail brewing, and issues around community resilience will have a potency and urgency which will make huge demands on support services and agencies. What is the prognosis in urban areas likely to bear the brunt of the economic downturn and reduced services? Civil unrest in similar circumstances in the UK’s inner cities in the 1980s prompted a renewed policy interest in area-based regeneration. What will be the future role of the state and infrastructure support networks in promoting and managing cohesive communities in the anticipated circumstances?  What will be the impact of the ‘Localism’ agenda?  Will we witness social breakdown, or a resurgence of community self help?

The government approach towards communities and neighbourhoods is based on the assumption that by sweeping away perceived barriers to deprivation and disadvantage and by encouraging ‘Big Society’ action at a local level, the potential for conflict will be drastically reduced.

This presentation will explore the gaps in public sector knowledge and consider what’s likely to happen as communities make more use of informal networking and informal responsiveness to change.

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‘THE POWER OF PULL’: MAXIMISING SERENDIPITY THROUGH QUALITY SOCIAL NETWORKS (FOR INNOVATION)

‘THE POWER OF PULL’: MAXIMISING SERENDIPITY THROUGH QUALITY SOCIAL NETWORKS (FOR INNOVATION)

John Diamond, CLPS -Edge Hill University, and Lorraine Johnston, Newcastle University

Abstract

Using Schumpeter’s notion of ‘the power of pull’, the article will argue that maximising serendipity is key for creating quality social networks. Such chance interactions between Higher Education institutions and policy communities are often the result of reciprocated and shared mutual advantages aimed at exploiting tacit knowledge for practice based solutions.

In the current context of austerity and ‘Big Society’ the authors’ explore what constitutes ‘serendipity’ in developing social network relationships. Whilst the ‘state’ is actively seeking greater co-production, co-creation, co-evolution and co-specialisation of knowledges between socially responsive and highly interactive societies (private, public, voluntary, higher education and individual citizens) cultivating serendipity in social network relationships requires ‘value chains’, ‘critical friendships’, ‘trust’ and social cohesiveness (including the membership size; compatibility and permanence).

The article argued that whilst serendipitous relationships are complex to manage they challenge the more traditional modes of creating social network relationships. On a more positive note, developing reciprocal relationships can act as a catalyst for and encourages greater risk-taking (also referred to as ‘risky-shift’) which in turn leads to more innovative solutions to practice problems and in many cases friendship to form. The paper reflects on the authors’ ongoing research and experiences to highlight the potential of serendipity to mobilise synergies between quality social networks. Further, they argue that whilst maximising ‘serendipity’ promotes shared knowledges between communities, quality social networks it requires goodwill and this can take time develop.

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Where next for ethnic diversity policy-making in the context of the ‘Big Society’? Reflections from a cross-national comparative study of Manchester and Copenhagen

Where next for ethnic diversity policy-making in the context of the ‘Big Society’? Reflections from a cross-national comparative study of Manchester and Copenhagen

Jessica Smith, Policy Researcher, Centre for Local Economic Strategies

Abstract

In the months since the election of the Conservative-Liberal coalition government, little has been said about what the change in government will mean for the field of ethnic diversity policy-making. However, all signs suggest that the ‘Community Cohesion’ agenda, built up over ten years by the Labour government, will be dropped. Indeed, amongst the government’s £1.66 billion cuts to local government grants, Community Cohesion monies will see a reduction of £4 million. At the same time, ‘Big Society’ has come to the fore as the defining feature of the coalition government’s policy rhetoric, signalling a ‘hands-off’ approach to ethnic diversity policy in stark contrast to the preceding social cohesion and multiculturalist models. With this context in mind, this paper poses the question: Where next for ethnic diversity policy-making?

This paper draws on findings from a cross-national comparison of two local authorities’ approaches to ethnic diversity policy-making: Manchester and Copenhagen. The research was conducted for the applicant’s dissertation project for a Masters degree in Human Geography Research at the University of Sheffield in summer 2010 and was awarded a Distinction. In January 2011, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, where the applicant works as a researcher, will publish a shortened, policy-focused version of the findings.

The research involved 32 semi-structured interviews with policy officers and policy-makers from the two local authorities as well as external representatives from non-governmental organisations, the voluntary and community sector and a Danish government ministry. Drawing on these findings, this paper reflects on existing approaches to responding to increased ethnic diversity and considers what impact the shift towards ‘Big Society’ (in the UK) and ‘active citizenship’ (in Denmark) might mean for: regeneration; tackling inequality; and the promotion of good community relations in a context of cuts.

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Big Society – Small Beer? Rural Places and the drive towards and enhanced localism

Big Society – Small Beer? Rural Places and the drive towards and enhanced localism

Ivan Annibal, Rose Regeneration

Abstract

The central premise of the Big Society is that communities will be keen to step up and take on the challenge of delivering public services in their own communities themselves. There is a powerful line of argument which suggests many rural communities have already been addressing this challenge for years as a consequence of their distance from local service provision. A number of commentators have argued that greater self reliance in rural communities as a consequence of this distance from services has endowed them with greater social capital as communities than urban places.

Rose Regeneration in partnership with Rural City Media have set out test this premise through a major survey of rural dwellers and intermediary organisations (Parish Councils, local churches etc) in rural England. Their survey completed in December 2010 (comprising over 1300 responses) suggests:

Rural communities are supportive of volunteering and local engagement but not convinced of the benefits of community provision of services previously provided by the “local state”

Rural communities see themselves as very distinct from urban communities and have a distinctive and clear agenda underpinning quality of life issues in their neighbourhoods

Overall a combination of the recession and long terms trends (ie demography and climate change) are making rural communities less sustainable

All of this points to the justification for a distinct set of policy approaches to build on greater sustainability in rural communities which may well be masked or derailed by the current “one size” fits all tendencies within the roll out of the Big Society. The Big Society idea itself may not be getting to the heart of the real challenges facing sustainable rural communities in this new decade of the 21st Century

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Actually existing ‘social sustainability’ and the opportunities and risks in leveraging the discourse of Big Society at the local level. Urban regeneration in Hastings.

Actually existing ‘social sustainability’ and the opportunities and risks in leveraging the discourse of Big Society at the local level. Urban regeneration in Hastings.

Johanne Orchard-Webb, Final Year PhD Student,  University of Brighton

Abstract

This paper offers an insight into an alternative outlook for social urban regeneration that is articulated by a large scale, political, active, Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) that is integral to, and embedded into the local governance structure in Hastings. While the case study of Hastings has ample evidence of the traditional criticisms of neo-liberal ‘post-political regeneration tactics’ (Baeten, 2009), the paper will suggest that there is also evidence of an alternative institutional space of invigorated democratic, civic and political community activism that can be usefully understood as ‘actually existing’ social sustainability. The paper will discuss evidence of collaborative working practices, connectedness of structures, a sophistication and empowerment of VCS leadership, and raised wider community expectations of engagement following a decade of intensive regeneration investment. The recognition of a potential shift in power dynamics within this local governance landscape during the current funding crisis is framed within the wider political discourse of the Coalition’s Big Society and Localism agenda.

By engaging with current debates questioning post Third Way regeneration, and challenges to the technocratic hegemony of ‘business as usual’ sustainability (Kreuger, 2010) this paper will argue there is purchase in utilising the concept of social sustainability. It will be argued that the concept can be used to highlight the potential for increased social equity in social regeneration practiced in alternative local institutional spaces and realised through new ways of working. In articulating an alternative reading to the dominant critique of urban regeneration and arguing for a change in practice that better utilises the political agency of social sustainability (Davidson, 2010) the paper engages with questions regarding the role of Big Society in realising or frustrating that shift at the local level.

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The role of well-being interventions and in creating and supporting big society

The role of well-being interventions and in creating and supporting big society

Victoria Bradford, Consultant, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and Sally Taylor, Evaluation & Research Analyst, BIG

Abstract

The £165 million Big Lottery Fund Well-Being Programme aims to improve healthy eating, physical activity, social well-being and the mental health of people. The programme is supporting a wide a range of projects including cookery classes for children, a national campaign to end stigma and discrimination about mental ill health and gardening activities for the elderly.

As an intelligent funder, BIG are committed to evaluating the outcomes of their funding. Evaluation findings inform the development of their policies and funding programmes. In 2008 CLES was commissioned to evaluate the impact of projects funded through the Well-Being Programme. The evaluation includes a pioneering approach to capturing well-being outcomes in a holistic manner consistently across a variety of different projects.

Part of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto, the Big Society has emerged as one of the most well publicised concepts of the Coalition Government. The concept of the Big Society and what it means for policy and practice is still evolving, but it is clear that the Coalition Government is committed to it. Similarly, well-being and the measurement of it has gained importance over the last year. This was illustrated by David Cameron’s announcement in late November of the National Well-being Project and the intention to measure the nation’s well-being through a household survey administered by ONS.

 

The evaluation is measuring well-being when an individual first visits a project, when they leave a project and three months after they have finished participating in a project. this allows us to track changes in an individual’s behaviour and feelings. There is also a substantial qualitative element which explores individual’s well-being gains, sustainability and added value as well as looking at what works best with what types of people, and in what context.

In this paper we will present interim findings from the evaluation, in particular in terms of well-being gains and evidence of what works. We will then consider how these gains and therefore these types of interventions can support (the development of) big society. We will do this by looking at well-being and social action; well-being and community empowerment; and well-being, public service reform and austerity. We will also draw on examples from real-life projects and findings from the evaluation.

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‘The Big Society’: Bold new idea or a bankrupted concept

‘The Big Society’: Bold new idea or a bankrupted concept

Yasminah Beebeejaun (University of Manchester), Paul O’Hare (University of Manchester)

Recently, a new term has been introduced to the lexicon of UK’s voluntary and community sector: ‘the Big Society’. Coined by the 2010 incoming Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition Government, the rhetorical momentum of the phrase appears destined to assume the ubiquity – but potentially too the opaqueness – of social policy buzzwords such as sustainability that have preceded it. Given its increasing prominence in policy discourse, the concept is worthy of critical interpretation.

Rhetorically, the ‘Big Society’ initiative implies a shifting of power from statutory authorities to communities and local people. The Prime Minister’s recent speech on the Big Society detailed three strands: social action; public service reform; and community empowerment. Observers of New Labour’s regeneration policy since 1997 will recognise such phrases and the concepts they embody. What distinguishes these recent developments is that they are to be achieved at the same time of a substantial retreat of the state; for instance the coalition government has been adamant that the Big Society must thrive (and indeed may be facilitated by) a retreat of ‘Big Government’.

This paper uses the dawn of the ‘Big Society’ to raise questions for the future of community-led regeneration practice and social development, primarily by drawing upon critiques of previous policy initiatives. In particular we examine how the potentially amorphous policy agenda of the ‘Big Society’ can learn lessons from recent schemes that benefited from extraordinary levels of statutory funding. How will the Big Society develop under these evolving circumstances, particularly in some of the most deprived communities in the United Kingdom that have been so reliant upon the support of the state in the past.

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W[h]ither the State? Liverpool, Static Capital, and Mobile Government

W[h]ither the State? Liverpool, Static Capital, and Mobile Government

Dr Paul Jones and Dr Michael Mair, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Liverpool

Abstract

Liverpool City Council’s decision to withdraw from the Big Society experiment can be read as a belated acknowledgement that Liverpool has much to lose as a result of recent political direction. Positioning the ‘Big Society’ agenda within the contested field of contemporary statecraft, this paper suggests that the detritus of previous reconfigurations of public and private are crucial features of the terrain on which this contemporary state-market-society experiment is being conducted. If the Big Society agenda is about ‘freeing’ government from its moorings, new ways of following and researching its movements – and the implications thereof – will have to be found. We argue that to get to grips with the governmental work done by re-engineered contrasts between public and private (categories that are far from stable in practice), it is necessary to develop research strategies for analysing a state form that is increasingly mobile and elusive, seemingly difficult to pin down to any firm location within wider social formations. Using the workings of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) – a ring-fenced form of public expenditure for many years to come – in Liverpool as a starting point for an analysis of these contemporary state forms and practices, we suggest some concrete strategies for retraining attention on an analytical target capable of moving in all manner of disconcerting ways.

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Neo-Liberalism, the Big Society and Community Organising: Between a Romanticised Associational and Radical Agonistic Perspective

Neo-Liberalism, the Big Society and Community Organising: Between a Romanticised Associational and  Radical Agonistic Perspective

Paul Bunyan, Edge Hill University

Abstract

At the heart of much of the discourse about the ‘Big Society’ lie normative assumptions about the nature of social change and the virtues of associational life. Such assumptions, shaped  in recent times by neo-liberal ideology, include a consensus based perspective of social change and a largely romanticised notion of community and civil society. In this paper, what will be termed a romanticised associational perspective, will be contrasted with an alternative radical agonistic view, which it will be argued offers a more authentic narrative about the nature of social change and the possibilities for community based efforts aimed at social and economic justice. These two contrasting perspectives will provide a framework for a critical analysis of the ‘Big Society’.  Furthermore, against the background of over three decades of neo-liberal hegemony, it will be argued that community organising offers an important opportunity to develop this alternative agonistic model of change. However, with the coalition governments endorsement of community organising and awarding of the contract to train community organisers to the organisation  Locality (as opposed to Citizens UK) the likelihood of moving towards such a model has, it will be maintained, diminished.

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Big Society – Implications and Opportunities for Older People.

The final presentation was given by Claire Ball, the Development Manager for Equalities and Human Rights, Age UK.  Claire began her presentation by running through the various key elements of the Big Society and introducing some of the implications for older people. Continue reading

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Living Through Change: Recession, Poverty and Sustainable Livelihoods in Bradford

The afternoon session stated with a presentation by Lucy Brill, the Programme Co-ordinator at OXFAM on a piece of research that they had done that had been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that explored the effects of the economic downturn on people in Bradford.  It was also looking at what could be done to ameliorate the effects.  This focused on four key strands of: Poverty, debt and welfare; Community relationships and cohesion; Mental health and well-being; and Local business and enterprise. Continue reading

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‘What about the workers’

The final speaker for the first session was Hilary Wainwright, the founding editor of Red Pepper and Research Director of the New Politics programme at the Transnational Institute.  She focused on the impacts that the Big Society will have on the paid workers by outlining the historic framework of the State in democracy and as a force for social good. Continue reading

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Equality and the Big Society

Anna Coote, the Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation focused on the Big Society and inequalities rather than inequalities created by Big Society.  Anna, highlighted the vagueness of policy, the methods and initiatives that are being used to make the ‘story of Big Society’ a reality within a climate of severe government cuts. Continue reading

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