Northamptonshire and East Sussex have been in the news recently – having to make deep cuts in council services to stay out of the red.
There are reportedly 15 other English counties facing bankruptcy in the foreseeable future.
Over recent years, councils have reduced services such as libraries museums and park maintenance, closing some elements down or passing to volunteers. Grants to voluntary groups and charities have been removed or reduced.
They have sold or rented out properties to raise revenue.
The easy savings that perhaps inconvenience have already been made and now savings must be made to balance the books in areas of high expenditure, including social services. The trend is for basic core offers, providing only the statutory, legally required services; the bare minimum.
East Sussex was starkly honest with a statement that they would have to “concentrate services on those in most urgent need and will not be able to maintain a comprehensive offer of universal services to all residents”.
A fast ageing population – a third over 65 by 2031 – means the current levels of care cannot be maintained.
The Government has just published a Civil Society strategy setting out a 10-year policy direction.
My mind went to the Big Society strategy of 2010; it fizzled out. At the time I was involved in work for the homeless but somehow the Big Society seemed to ignore what was already going on that should have been a foundation, and focused on exciting headlines.
The Civil Society policy includes “individuals and organisations when they act with the primary purpose of creating social value independent of state control”.
Social value is defined as “enriched lives and a fairer society for all, flowing from thriving communities”.
These are communities strongly connected and strongly resourced with public funding, private investment, and places for a community to use.
Social value includes “trust and goodwill, and the organisations and partnerships that bring people together”.
The last statement is for me compelling and a cornerstone of change. It is grassroots trust and will require commitment from both national and local organisations to achieve. It is trust investment!
It will require something I’ve not seen stressed which is for socially valuable small voluntary groups to be recognised. Volunteering should be a badge of honour.
There’s a lot of good going on. It should be made more visible to the community.
What do you think?