Forget Big Society, localism is where it’s at

Forget Big Society, localism is where it’s at
Richard Kemp, deputy chair of the Local Government Association for Social Enterprise Live


I recently attended a meeting about Big Society and localism, which was addressed by Lord Nat Wei who, the word on the street goes, invented it. To be honest I left none the wiser. He and Cameron honestly believe that there is something there. It can be summed up in the phrase: ‘a transfer of power to and through councils to local communities.’


But after that there is nothing. I don’t want to be critical – they really mean this direction and I don’t believe that this is a convenient way to hide cuts in budgets. They really believe that power needs to be taken from Whitehall and given to local groups and communities. I support that and so should most people who work in or support social enterprises.


Big Society is too nebulous to mean anything. But there are three bills going through parliament – localism, police reform and health reform – which do give shape to localism. Not only are the bills important but ministers from a wide range of ministries are now trying to grapple with the fundamentals of what social enterprise really means and, crucially, what they can actually do to deliver them after years in which they were a bit like Prince Charles – just waiting for something to happen.


The health reform bill in particular gives many opportunities for social enterprises. The Guardianistas are convinced that this bill is an opportunity to privatise and that greedy GPs up and down the country are already ordering their Bentleys. This is not the reality that I see on the ground. I have chaired a number of meetings recently with GP representatives nationally. They are looking at new ways to deliver health services. The best of them want their practice to be at the heart of public sector delivery in their area. They do not want to be confined to clinical or surgical outputs which often give poor outcomes for patients and are looking for opportunities to deal holistically with their patients’ problems.


I repeat what is often my closing mantra in this column. Are you aware of the opportunities? Are you bold enough to knock on new doors with new ideas? If you are, the future for social enterprises is bright.