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The Big Society - White Paper

RBWM White Paper Version 4 - September 2011

The definition of RBWM's position regarding the Big Society is an iterative process that will be refreshed consistently in order to develop a consistent and shared approach. This is an open source policy document the development of which relies on the collective wisdom of contributors.

The Big Society - A Definition

In launching the Big Society on Monday, 19 July the Government outlined three strands that contribute to this programme including:

  1. Social action - the Government fostering a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy.
  2. Public service reform - specifically getting rid of centralised bureaucracy - as relevant for the council as it is for central government.
  3. Community empowerment.

What the Big Society idea is not about

  1. The Council undertaking more activities - because Big Society is not a programme and does not come with any more money.
  2. That charities are drafted into provide services 'on the cheap.' (However, by making decision making and action far more localised unnecessary central costs will be released).

How should RBWM respond to the Big Society?

Our overall aim will be to create an environment where it is easy for communities to do things for themselves, around issues that matter to them. The role of the council should be to do whatever is necessary to facilitate the maximum community benefit.

The direction of the Big Society in a locality should be set by communities not by one or more public agencies.

The Council will be proactive and provide all necessary authority, calling on central CLG support as necessary, to get Government out of the way and enable solutions to be implemented quickly. There are likely to be problems that communities cannot surmount single-handedly (indeed, which is why they haven't yet been achieved!).

Broadly in articulating this particular programme RBWM will seek to recognise three core streams which include the following:

  1. Badging of existing projects/initiatives such as Adopt a Street and other activities that we undertake with partners such as (potentially) One Borough, Grow, Adopt a Garden etc, enabling RBWM to demonstrate the success of our work.
  2. The development of specific projects that seek to either incentivise voluntary activity, build on current initiatives (listed above) or develop initiatives that will directly benefit local residents and communities (more details provided below).
  3. Regular involvement and discourse with local residents and communities regarding the Council's Big Society offer and also specific ideas that they may have in regards to developing Big Society initiatives or becoming involved in voluntary activity in the Borough. This has been a consistent theme of the work that the Council is undertaking and has manifested itself through comments received as a result of posting this white paper and Big Society project portfolio. However the Council has also run an Open Space event in December 2010 which was attended by over 250 residents allowing them to feedback and comment on the Council's projects portfolio whilst at the same time offering ideas and suggestions for the development of the borough's Big Society agenda. Also approximately 150 people being present from voluntary organisations across the area attended. The Council held a second event in March to develop some of the ideas that were forthcoming in December and to report on the progress of its work on its Big Society project. This contact with residents and communities is paramount in ensuring that the Council's projects are shaped by them, that these projects meet local community needs, and ideas are generated by local communities.

Big Society Projects

The Council is currently working on a number of projects - many of which were originally posted in the policy white paper in August 2010. However, subsequent to consultation with residents a number of these have been changed and new projects have been added to the portfolio. Further details regarding these projects and the progress in meeting them can be found elsewhere on these pages. A snapshot of the individual projects are as follows:

  • Participatory Budgeting exercise - this is being developed at a local level to give communities greater influence on public. [Lead Member: Cllr Saunders or Cllr Bateson].
  • Development of Archimedes' screws/renewable energy programme. (Social Action - opportunity to share in the proceeds. [Lead Member: Cllrs Bicknell/ Saunders]
  • Licensing - allowing RBWM to raise revenue at nightclub doors and use that to commission more police at weekends. (Public Service Reform - removing centrally imposed legislation that makes it difficult to solve a local problem) [Lead Member : Cllr Bicknell]
  • Transparency -this is considered to be a "business as usual, function of the Council albeit one that is vitally important to providing services to local people. (Community Empowerment - enables people to see how money is being spent and thereby become more engaged in the way public funds are used) [Lead Member: Cllr Kellaway]
  • Devolution of activity to parishes (Public Service Reform - allows decisions on service delivery to be made as close as possible to where people live) [Lead Member: Cllrs Burbage / Bateson]
  • By developing a national incentive scheme - call off contract, where volunteers, or groups of volunteers get different points for different activities within the Big Society. In essence this is using nudge theory to get people to embrace certain activities and ensure there is a degree of reward for becoming involved. The reward would - like the Recycle Bank scheme or supermarket reward points - be accessed in an easy manner to ensure people sign-up to the scheme. This scheme would also create opportunity in other areas outside Big Society, e.g. giving points for behaviour change in areas such as public health, school attendance, promotion of training to the unemployed, etc. (Social Action - encourages participation in the Big Society and encourages effort to be ranged against some of society's more difficult areas) [Lead Member : Cllr Saunders]
  • Project CareBank - working with the Cabinet Offices Behavioural Insight's Team together with the Department of Health, Lead Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government. This project is designed to establish a reciprocal time credit scheme to help stimulate peer to peer provision of social care. At the heart of the scheme is the idea that people are able to help older people with any aspect of their care, the time that they give is effectively banked and can be exchanged or transferred to someone of their choice - typically a parent or family member who lives elsewhere in the country and who needs similar help. The scheme is being established as a prototype and if successful it is hoped that it can be rolled out to other parts of the country. An effective nationwide exchange platform would enable people to start to trade credit across different localities. [Lead Member : Cllr Dudley]
  • Ways into Volunteering - A project that seeks to signpost potential volunteers - particularly those that have never volunteered before to volunteering opportunities. At the heart of this project is the idea of mapping volunteering opportunities and of simplifying the process to put the volunteer directly in touch with voluntary opportunities. [Lead Member Cllr Bateson]
  • Adopt a Street - an expansion of the Council's current voluntary scheme where residents or communities adopt a specific area. The scheme is being expanded in terms of the numbers of people taking part but also the breadth of the activities that they currently engaged in. For example the Council is keen to encourage communities should they wish to become involved in sustainability based projects (energy consumption, water consumption and so forth). As well as continuing to focus on environmental issues that may be concerns to local people [Cllrs Bateson]
  • Guildhall Volunteering - the Council is establishing a museum within the Guildhall at Windsor. This projects seeks to harness interest in volunteers becoming involved in this project. Specifically the Council is keen to involve volunteers in the operation of the service once the museum is open in the third quarter of 2011. The Council is specifically interested in developing and implementing educational work in this area using volunteers. [Cllr Dudley]

A structure to decide/develop

The essence of the Big Society is about people becoming involved in community and voluntary activities. These activities by definition may complement existing local authority services or alternatively, come to replace existing local authority services as the state becomes smaller. A relatively flexible structure needs to be established to facilitate ideas from community groups - individuals that either link to existing services or some of the projects defined above. The Council is facilitating this process through the regular meetings of its Big Society Panel which are open to the public and by the establishment of Open Space events allowing residents and communities to comment and, become involved in the Big Society. In addition the Council continues to work through its regular contacts with the voluntary sector and with individuals in terms of developing specific ideas that may augment the overall process.
The above is particularly relevant given that a number of these projects are new prototypes - particularly the incentivisation scheme, the CareBank project and also the Devolution of Services to Parishes.

Civil Service support

The Department of Communities and Local Government continues to support the Council in its development of its Big Society offer as part of its Vanguard Community status. Specifically the Department is interested in working with the Council to identify and free blockages particularly in regard to the delivery of projects that have been listed above but also to ensure that the community empowerment strand of the Big Society is met. This support takes the form of civil servants working alongside Councillors and officers in developing this offer and in articulating both community concerns and the projects measures to meet those concerns.

A number of ideas have been discussed over the last few months in regard to how the CLG can further help the Council. Some of these have been subsequently rejected as being impracticable or too resource intensive. For example the Local Bond Investment scheme and the Return of Investment (ROI tool).

Submit Your Views

If you would like to leave any comments both on the policy and the projects that we are proposing please do so using the following e-mail address big.society@rbwm.gov.uk.


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Modified: 2011-09-06
Published: Mon, 10 Oct 2011 15:27:32
Author: Andrew Scott
Editor: Andrew.Scott
LGSL PID: 653
RDCMS ID: 29175