Community organisations are just small fries when it comes to the government's preferred service delivery partners. Just take the Olympic catering as an example, says Robert Ashton.
Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony will be a proud display of all that is British. The new McDonald’s restaurant, capable of serving 1,200 people an hour will not. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with our country right now.
You see we can organise, and our government will commission, artistic endeavour that highlights our national tradition, heritage and culture. But although we seem able to feed our minds, organising ourselves to feed people in the Olympic village is considered too challenging.
Sure McDonalds are major sponsors and have bought the right to exclusivity. There’s nothing wrong with McDonalds either; it’s cheap, nutritious and for most British children, the culinary treat of choice. But let’s be honest, it’s American, just like Coca-Cola. Why not Cornish pasties, fish & chips or roast pork sandwiches?
To those charged with organising the games, it was simply far easier to take the Mac millions than to consider any alternative. People need to be fed, quickly, safely and reliably. To use a smaller, more indigenous provider would showcase British food to a world audience, but take more time and raise less sponsorship.
It’s the same argument government must have used when deciding not to give any of the £80bn ‘Government Funding for Lending Scheme’ cash to the CDFI movement. Yes, they lend to those that banks turn down. Yes, they have lots of success stories and yes, they are all ‘not-for-profit’, but they’re simply not convenient. We live in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ world. Government prefer the big, single contract providers to the complexity of nurturing those working at the grassroots.
It’s why A4E does so nicely out of the Work Programme and G4S were trusted to find an additional 8,000 security staff for the Olympics.
The paradox of course is clear. ‘Big Society’ was about a bottom-up, community-led, economically-viable renaissance. But when it comes to the crunch, government always seems to buy the big, bland and boring solution. As we already know, those solutions don’t always deliver. ‘Would you like fries with that?’