Monday, May 23, 2011

The Big Society: relaunch?

Today, we learn that the Prime Minister's attempts to sell the public his vision of the Big Society is to receive a relaunch. He denies this is because -- even one year on -- the idea has failed to catch on or "connect" with many voters. The general thought is that the Big Society is effectively the same as Margaret Thatcher's earlier claim that there was "no such thing" as society: reducing government by encouraging more local communities to volunteer and do the work that government once did. The idea is not simply that it's cheaper, but that services may be provided better. Details here.

It is curious that even the PM acknowledges -- if only indirectly -- that, in fact, the Big Society has not sufficiently taken hold in the public imagination. It is then all the more surprising that the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) continues to claim in its most recent delivery report for strategic research funding priorities in the arts and humanities for the next several years that the plan "will contribute" to the Big Society. In a recent statement, the AHRC Chief Executive said that, in his view, the Big Society is of "interest" to "us". This is despite nearly 4,000 academics signing petitions calling on the removal of the Big Society from the delivery plan which was supported by over 30 learned societies in genuinely unprecedented opposition.

Today's revelation is likely to only add further fuel to the view that the AHRC has got this badly wrong. Political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans.

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