Whose Society? The final Big Society audit report

A study by the think tank Civil Exchange has found that the Big Society has failed, and the voluntary sector’s influence over government has been reduced.

In the last of three reports, which aimed to audit the performance of the Big Society initiative, Civil Exchange has concluded that the Big Society has not been a success.

It has said that fewer people now feel they can influence local decisions, while disenchantment with the political system remains widespread. It also concludes that the Big Society has failed to establish a strong partnership with the voluntary sector.

The report, entitled Whose Society? The final Big Society audit report, is a culmination of a three-year investigation, which states that the Big Society has created a more divided society. The report outlines five main reasons for the Big Society’s failure.

The first of these is that the market-based model for increasing competition and choice in public services has undermined the achievement of key goals. The report adds that there is a concern over quasi-monopoly private sector providers which are too big to fail and that there is an increased lack of accountability and transparency of public services delivered through such contracts.

The second is that power is not being transferred from the State on any scale and that the Big Society has failed to live up to its promise to give more power to ordinary people.

The report also concludes that a third major problem of the initiative is that there has been a failure to target those in society who benefit least from society. The report adds that this is creating the Big Society Gap, where those that need it the most are experiencing the worst from public services and the voluntary sector.

The report goes on to state that the fourth problem has been a failure to establish a strong partnership with the voluntary sector, which might have been expected to be at the very heart of a meaningful Big Society.

The report’s final major problem of the Big Society has been the failure to mobilise the private sector to work for the common good.  The report adds that levels of corporate giving have not increased to replace shrinking State funding for the voluntary sector.

However, the report does offer some positive aspects of the Big Society. It states that the voluntary sector remains resilient, while individual generosity is at a high and social engagement by young people is increasing.

The report warns that the next government must be genuinely inclusive, target those most in need and harness the energy of the voluntary and private sectors in order to not repeat the mistakes made in the Big Society.

The report gives key recommendations for the next government, including a shift in government and public sector culture, to allow it to work more collaboratively with civil society, and a civil society-led commission on using existing resources to create a fairer society.

It also recommends a major review of public service contracting to establish the relative cost-benefits of existing contracts, the potential benefits of smaller contracts and different collaborative, rather than competitive, approaches, and wants to remove biases against small and voluntary organisations.

To download the full report visit www.civilexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Whose-Society_The-Final-Big-Society-Audit_final.pdf.