Today our new Prime Minister flanked by his Deputy, Nick Clegg, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude and our own Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd launched the Big Society at No 10. You might not have heard it from where you were, but there was an audible sigh of relief at the SEL offices where tension around the commitment of the new Government to Big Society had started to rise.
We are looking forward to detail and more about the how of it, but the outline we got today was a bloody good start. This is a very young Government and such an early commitment to our values and purpose has to be a good thing. If played out as we would wish, it could be a wonderful thing.
Anyone who came to our education conference a few weeks ago would have picked up the excitement and sense of heresy. We want to run your schools you see, we also want to run health services, pick up your waste, recycle it and manage your waterways. We want to deliver your broadband, transport, and food, we want to run your post offices, leisure centres and libraries and we want to do it with you, and when all the work is done we even want to pull your pints. That is the scale of our ambition and it is immense. That was why last week I called for a Minister with big plans and only a few days into the job, this will do well for starters.
Now the game will be making it happen. Yes we think we can do it better than Government, especially when Government has failed and yes there are savings that can be achieved through social enterprises because our staff are motivated and creatively engaged in service design, which is more efficient, but we aren’t a cheap date. Social enterprise has to be supported. We need money, more money than we have had but something similar to the London Rebuilding Society lending offer has to be in the mix. We need clear signals from Government about their expectations not the push-me-pull-you nonsense we had over the Summer in health, and we need transparent, enlightened commissioning offering a fair price. Then you will see rapid change, and if social enterprise performs as it has done to date, we will engage communities.
But public services are not the only story in town. Let us not forget that social entrepreneurs make things like Global Ethics, One Condoms that we hope will be available at the 2012 games, or Divine chocolate. They make things and sell them, and let’s face this we will need to make more stuff and sell it, abroad, if we want to get out of this hole that we are in.
My primary focus at the moment is doing something about the horror of a generation of unemployed young people. I was around last time when young people missed their chance to establish a work ethic and as a society we have been paying the price ever since. I know a thing or two about breaking the cycle of generational unemployment and doing just that is essential if we are to stem the drain on public finances.
So programs like Future Jobs Fund and the Youth Sector Development Fund need to get the green light either as they were or in some new form asp. I have had animated phone conversations this week from colleagues delivering Future Jobs Fund contracts who have young people and jobs for them to go to, but have had their contracts frozen. Our own London Development Agency have not renewed our contract while they work out where social enterprise fits in the new horizon (everywhere?) and the fantastic SEL programme, sitting in the starting blocks waiting for the green light under the Youth Sector Development Fund, is spinning its wheels.
Come on everyone, keep up. This stuff is gold. We can get young people into jobs that inspire them, the 17 health service spin offs we have been handling that stalled last summer are still possible, failing London schools have community groups gagging to get in there and sort the mess out that is their local provision. If today was the sound of the starter gun, and soon, very soon, we see the brakes come off the aforementioned, just watch us go.