Share

Where are the Big Society champions?

Where are the Big Society champions?
Blogs

Where are the Big Society champions?

Governance | Malcolm Hurlston | 2 Jul 2012

After the Compact Commission was abolished, sector champions were to be established in every government department. Malcolm Hurlston tries to find them.

On the one hand the coalition government is setting great store by the Big Society. On the other it hates quangos.

So it was perhaps not surprising when – despite the clear need for an arbiter when unequal parties such as state and charities are in the ring – the decision was taken last year to abolish the Commission for the Compact.

Coalition ministers assured charities that the abolition of the Commission changed nothing: it did not mark a weakening of small civil society partners’ position vis à vis the state. As things had been they would remain.

Commitment

Charities could trust their departmental and local authority partners to play fair; the lion would lie down with the lamb and no doubt the leopard would take the same opportunity to change its spots. Anyway who was to know? And the coalition’s commitment to its Big Society was so strong, and so repeated, and at such a high level, that it was unlikely to risk being caught out in its promises.

Possibly the sacrifice of the Commission changed nothing; but it was welcome when the National Audit Office (NAO) published Central government’s implementation of the national Compact, in January of this year, looking at what was going on in practice.

I had taken my own straw poll last year of nine government departments in order to gauge the profile of their Big Society champions: the champions each department had been asked by the government to appoint, to make the case for the sector from the inside.

It was not scientific, but there was little evidence from switchboard enquiries and thereabouts that anybody knew much about the existence of these mythical champions. If we had a champion for civil society in each department, it was news to the department.

The NAO reported equal difficulty in outing the champions. Its report concluded that they were “not always visible”, and that “some champions in departments did not know who their counterparts in other departments were and neither did stakeholders in civil society”.

Given the importance of the role civil society organisations are destined to play in the Big Society, government departments clearly need help in adapting to their part in the drama. I have two suggestions.

The NAO report was both helpful and salutary. It would be in the interests of David Cameron for No. 10 to encourage the NAO to produce an annual report measuring progress in so key a venture.

Secondly, something needs to be done about the profile of departmental champions. At the moment they are certainly not champions, not even contenders. I would suggest that annually each champion should produce a written report – to an agreed format – which should be presented at public hearings in front of sector organisations.

Opportunity

The task of champions cannot be easy. Advocacy of the sector is likely to cut across the wishes and convenience of their more senior colleagues who have a job to do.

The champions and their departments are unlikely to jump at my suggestion, but the need to present annually would, with any luck, give our champions backbone, strengthen their positions within their departments and be an opportunity to make the Big Society work better. It would be public, and helpful, and not too frightening.

And by the way – for your further information – I emailed the senior official in each of nine departments in April with the simple request: ‘Could you give me the name and contact details of your Big Society champion?’ This was replicated at switchboard level.

I can reveal exclusively that only two departments came up with the same name from both sources. Take a bow, the Department of Health, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Perhaps it is time for Francis Maude to twin the Big Society agenda with his transparency programme.

Malcolm Hurlston is chairman of Registry Trust and president of the Foundation for Credit Counselling 

 

Comments

[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The civilsociety.co.uk community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear

Please:

  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Malcolm Hurlston

Malcolm Hurlston is a social entrepreneur, a trained Russian interrogator, a former journalist and was a major scholar at Cambridge.

Ian Allsop (64) John Tate (56) David Davison (49) Robert Ashton (41) Tania Mason (24) Andrew Hind CB (20) Gordon Hunter (17) Daniel Phelan (14) David Ainsworth (13) Vibeka Mair (12)
David Philpott (10) Celina Ribeiro (8) Niki May Young (8) Rui Domingues (8) Andrew Chaggar (5) James Brooke Turner (4) Sir Stuart Etherington (4) Kate Sayer (3) Jeremy Swain (3) Garreth Spillane (3) Alistair Gibbons (3) Ian Clark (3) Claris D'cruz (2) Stephen Lloyd (2) Richard Maitland (2) Adrian Beney (2) Iain Pritchard (2) Pauline Broomhead (2) Martin Brookes (2) Tesse Akpeki (2) Nick Brooks (2) Stephen Hammersley (2) June O'Sullivan (2) Dan Corry (2) Peter Holbrook (2) Belinda Pratten (2) Simon Steeden (2) Jonathan Bruck (2) Dan Gregory (2) Making Good: The Future of the Voluntary Sector (2) Mark Astarita (1) Don Bawtree (1) Sir Stephen Bubb (1) Victoria Cook (1) Lindsay Gray (1) Rachel Holmes (1) Nick Ivey (1) Iona Joy (1) John Kelly (1) Michael King (1) Heather Lamont (1) Lucy McLynn (1) Chris Oulton (1) Julian Rathbone (1) Socrates Socratous (1) Richard Weaver (1) Karl Wilding (1) Richard Williams (1) Roger Chester (1) Matthew Bowcock (1) Joe Saxton (1) Reuben Turner (1) Martin Farrell (1) Paul Gibson (1) Jonathon Grapsas (1) Andrew Scadding (1) Simon Hebditch (1) Su Sayer (1) Debra Allcock Tyler (1) Martin Birch (1) Mark Hallam (1) Jonathan Lewis (1) Sara Llewellin (1) John Low (1) Dame Mary Marsh (1) Ruth Murphy (1) Colin Nee (1) Julia Unwin (1) Kate Rogers (1) Malcolm Hayday (1) Filippo Addarii (1) Kimberley Scharf (1) Jakes Ferguson (1) Jessica Sklair (1) Joe Turner (1) John May (1) Julian Blake (1) Rosie Chapman (1) Andy Williamson (1) Malcolm Hurlston (1) Andrew Samuel (1) Chester Mojay-Sinclare (1) Paul Amadi (1) Kirsty Weakley (1) Luke Fletcher (1) Peter Mitchell (1) Billy Dove (1) Andrew Ketteringham (1) Jackie Turpin (1) Lynne Robb (1) Jonathan Crown (1) Paul Emery (1) Ruchir Shah (1) Pesh Framjee (1) Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs (1) Moira Protani (1) Vicki Prout (1) Michael O'Toole (1) Dawn Austwick (1) Lisa Clavering (1) Paul Farmer (1) Neelam Makhijani (1) Logan Anderson (1) Andy Rich (1) Sharon Martin (1) Asheem Singh (1) Leigh Daynes (1) Abdurahman Sharif (1) Lynne McMahon (1) Richard Caulfield (1) Carolyn Sims (1) Ashley Horsey (1)
Less +++ More +++

Civil Society's 12 Days of Christmas

22 Dec 2014

In the lead-up to the Christmas break Civil Society News brought readers different festive feature, looking...

Civil Society Christmas Charity Quiz

19 Dec 2014

It's the last Civil Society News bulletin before Christmas, and we know and you know that you're just...

Top charity news stories of 2014: October to December

17 Dec 2014

Civil Society News is bringing you a festive countdown in the run-up to Christmas. On the eleventh day...

Media scrutiny of the charity sector in 2014

12 Dec 2014

Civil Society News is bringing you a festive countdown in the run-up to Christmas. On the seventh day...

Society Diary: Charity cash spent on teeth, troubles over Tony Blair, and being rude to fundraisers

5 Dec 2014

Our weekly round-up of outlandish and interesting information collected from the corners of the charity...

Society Diary: The best loo joke, the typical charity fan, and the Guide Dogs fundraiser sacked for sight problems

21 Nov 2014

Our weekly round-up of outlandish and interesting information collected from the corners of the charity...