Message from Steve Wyler, Locality
Over the last three weeks I have had the dubious pleasure of attending all three Party conferences. The mood at each of the three conferences was certainly different. Labour apologising for past mistakes, through clenched teeth. The LibDems squirming with the thrill of power. The Tories acting exceedingly benign and exceedingly authoritarian.
At all three conferences Locality ran fringe events on community organising. They were well-attended and well-received. Overall, Locality’s messages went down well. While nearly everyone was avoiding the term Big Society, in stark contrast to last year, nevertheless it was evident that the community can-do spirit of our movement still does resonate across the whole party spectrum.
But despite the warm words, it was also clear that – in their heart of hearts – many politicians and their entourages remain sceptical about the ability of people, especially those in poor communities, to determine their own futures, to control decisions and resources. My feeling is that despite all the rhetoric there are still many who would prefer us to remain on the margins, outside the circles of power. Which of course means that Locality’s pledge “to speak truth to power” is more important than ever.
At one fringe meeting, where the discussion turned to the Work Programme and the prime contracting model, one delegate suggested that the future for community groups and social enterprises will be to ride in the slipstream of the big private sector corporates.
What an appalling idea! I said it made me think of those agile little fish that dart in and out of the sharp teeth of giant sharks. What we really need, I suggested, is bigger shoals of agile fish and fewer sharks.
But at present the sharks are indeed circling. I suspect that, unchecked, the prime contracting model will prove to be as big and as costly a scandal for this government as the PFI deals were for the last government. Locality is currently preparing a study on the “diseconomy of scale” as a first step in a campaign to expose the wrong-headedness of the whole approach.