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PASC launches inquiry into Government 'Big Society' policy

16 February 2011

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), chaired by Bernard Jenkin MP, has today launched an inquiry on the Government’s flagship policy to promote the “Big Society”

Bernard Jenkin MP, the Chair of PASC, said:

"Everyone seems to agree that empowering communities, opening up public services and encouraging social action are good things, but what does this mean that government and local government should be doing? This is a huge challenge against the background of sharp reductions in state spending and state support for the voluntary sector.

The Prime Minister’s project has faced a barrage of criticism in recent weeks. We will be looking to separate the inevitable hostility to spending cuts from the positive elements of the Big Society policy.

We will draw on the public debate and take fresh evidence to try to identify actions which the government can take to promote the Big Society. This is potentially a huge culture change for government and how it goes about the business of government. I don’t believe that the Whitehall machine or the Civil Service has really started to understand the implications of the change which is required."

The Committee is calling for evidence on the following issues in particular:

  1. A definition of what the ‘Big Society’ is or should be.
  2. The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government’s ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society.
  3. The role of and capacity for the voluntary and community sector to deliver local public services including the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour to subsidise costs.
  4. Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government.
  5. The right to form employee-owned public service co-operatives including the resources available to co-operatives, proposed powers, and rules governing their operation.
  6. Governance and accountability issues arising out of different organisational forms of social enterprises and co-operatives; and the participation of voluntary sector and community groups in greater public service provision.
  7. The implications for central government and for the civil service of policies which require them to promote and to enable, rather than to manage and to direct, public services.
  8. The place of local authorities in the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities and the role democratically elected local councillors should play. 
  9. Potential conflicts with other aspects of public service delivery, such as individual focus of personalised public services or universal provision and uniform standards of public services (i.e. avoiding postcode lotteries).

Civil Society Minister Nick Hurd and Justine Greening, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, gave evidence to the Committee earlier today about the Government’s plans to promote the “Big Society” and future funding for charities and voluntary groups. Watch the session on the web.

The Public Administration Select Committee examines the quality and standards of administration across Government and the Civil Service and scrutinises the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

For more information about the work of the Committee, visit our website at: