To roundup the week, here are updates on two items I recently wrote about: the new UK Government's Big Society agenda; and natural care.

Big Society Update

It hasn't taken long for the new Coalition Government in the UK to begin implementing its Big Society agenda.  From previous posts you will recall the 'learning laboratory' now on display in the UK as the result the Cameron/Clegg coalition. All jurisdictions are or will be facing similar challenges: mounting financial pressures; less government resources; weakened civil society as a result of relying for too long on bug government and the financial market.  Watching how the UK deals with theses pressures will provide insight on what to do and what not to do.
This week, they announced the creation of a Big Society Bank which will provide financing to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and other non governmental organizations.   The capital for this bank will come from all the unclaimed assets in dormant bank accounts.
Ironically this initiative began under former PM Gordon Brown who established a Task Force a few years ago that recommended what Cameron/Clegg have now done.
Fortunately, the civil, non profit and social enterprise sector has done its work and made sure a variation of the Bank was embedded in the election platforms of each of the three parties.  In that regard, implementation was more or less assured whoever was elected. Covering your partisan political bases – a key lesson for our sector here in Canada and elsewhere.
The new policy document is called: Building The Big Society (
Download Ukbuildingbigsocietymay2010 ).  It sets out five priorities: (1) Give communities more power; (2) encourage people to take an active role in their communities; (3) transfer power form central to local governments; (4) support coops, charities and social enterprise; and (5) publish government data.  Open Government advocates take note of that last point.  One of my favorite bloggers David Eaves will likely have a cogent analysis soon.
Some of the intriguing policy proposals include:

  • a new National Citizen Service to support 16-year olds in public service initiatives;
  • train a new generation of community organizers and support the creation of neighbourhood groups, especially in ‘most deprived’ areas.
  • launch a national ‘Big Society Day’ to encourage volunteering and involvement in social action.
  • ‘a range of measures’ to encourage charitable giving and philanthropy.
  • support for the creation and expansion of mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises – and support for those groups to have a much greater involvement in the running of public services.
  • public sector workers will get a new right to form employee-owned co-operatives that can bid to take over public services.
  • create a new ‘right to public data’.

It is too soon to tell how all this will play out. I subscribe to the UK's Institute for Public Policy Research for their policy analysis.  They have set four key priorities for the new Government and will be one of the many groups holding that Government to account.  Note: They also have an excellent paper on a new electoral system.

Natural Care Update

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced on May 17th that a government led by him  "will do more to help families care for loved ones at home."  Here are excerpts from Ignatieff's speech:

We can't have a productive and competitive society when families are out of the labour market, caring for loved ones at home.  I speak with a certain amount of authority and passion here. I lost my mother to Alzheimer's. Millions of families in this country go through the same anguish that my brother and I did.

We're a better country than that. We know that a country can be compassionate and competitive at the same time. In fact, you can't be competitive, unless you are compassionate.

Click here to read the full speech.

This is the result of careful, thoughtful strategic advocacy work by the Canadian Caregiver Coalition, Cancer, Alzheimer's and ALS Societies, assisted by luminaries like Sherri Torjman whose speech at the Canada 150 conference I profiled on March 30th
You might be interested to know Ignatieff wrote what many consider a thinly veiled fictionalized account of a son's struggles with his mother's diminishing intellectual ability.  The novel, Scar Tissue, was nominated for a Booker Prize and contains the most poetic descriptions of personhood, despite fraility and varying degrees of intellectual capacity, I have ever read.  He gets to the soul of what it means to be deeply human.

Unlike the UK, there is not yet all party agreement on this agenda in Canada.  So let's join with the Canadian Caregiver Coalition and others to persuade the Conservative Government, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois and Green Parties to develop their own comprehensive plan to support natural care in Canada.

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