So, Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, has written to pull out of the Big Society. In one sense, I am not surprised. It has always seemed an insubstantial policy. Why cooperate with central government when there are big cuts being imposed on the city? However, I wonder whether there is more to this and, at the same time, a degree of danger in the approach taken by Anderson.
At the time of the launch last July, I suggested that the City Council might use the city’s ‘vanguard’ status to squeeze extra resources from the government. It appears to have failed and this is at the heart of Joe Anderson’s statements on TV etc yesterday.
However, at the time of the launch, Phil Redmond was the key contact in Liverpool, not the City Council. Clearly the city needed to be a partner, but the very point of the Big Society is to reduce the role of the state and to encourage citizens and communities to act on their own behalf. It appears that Phil Redmond remains committed to the ‘vanguard’ status, despite slow progress and this latest setback. Is there, then, a risk that the government calls their bluff and welcomes the City Council’s withdrawal? Now would be the time for them to offer resources or support, but to by-pass the city entirely. From the perspective of some ideologues, this might be the best news in a long time. A council withdraws from the stage, leaving civil society institutions to take the lead.
They were always strange bedfellows, Anderson and Eric Pickles. Too alike? It was bound to end in tears….