Headlines: August 9th, 2010

A national poll of local government executives finds that whilst there is some support for the Big Society initiative, there are deep concerns about the implications for local government resource management.

The poll revealed that 71 per cent of respondents are concerned about the cost and resource implications of devolved power for local government which is already facing a funding squeeze. Some 54 per cent are worried that the concept has not been adequately thought through. Although 31 per cent feel that it is a positive initiative that will bring significant benefits to society, 47 per cent worry that there is not enough detail on how government will monitor compliance of community organisations such as schools that are set up under the Big Society initiative.

Respondents gave varying estimates of the cost implications for their authority raging from £1 million to £10 million pounds. If these cost estimates were projected on a national level, they could lead to an additional annual local government bill in the region of £1.7bn.

Des Speed, CEO of Lagan Technologies, said: “These cost estimates are preliminary but it’s clear that local government executives don’t see a straight line between devolved power, community involvement and cost reduction. In fact, the vast majority, see cost increases as councils and authorities pick up new responsibilities for compliance and support of local initiatives. What’s clear is that respondents believe that they will need to work even harder and even smarter.”

There is also concern within charities and third sector orgnisations that widespread change will be necessary to make the Big Society work. Jonathan Lewis, Chief Executive of the ACEVO said: “The government has said that civil society organisations like charities, community groups and social enterprises are at the heart of their vision for the Big Society. However, many such organisations are very small and financially fragile and may struggle to survive over the months ahead, even as the demands for their vital services increases.

He added “Realising the vision of a Big Society with a multitude of capable and resourced charities and social enterprises is essential, but will require big changes – new ways of strengthening the sector, and new ways of organising the sector.