As David Cameron works away in the US – gee what a Big Society that is – let us consider what we learned from yesterday’s (re)launch of his Big Society back home.
We learned that his favourite Grange Hill character was Gripper Stebson, a bully and a racist. Even for a member of the Bullingdon club like Cameron, I doubt that Gripper really is, as the PM said, ‘one of my role models in life.’
If this was a joke, it wasn’t a very good one. Far more likely is that as the Big Society Express sped (ish) towards Liverpool, and Dave saw on his itinerary that he was due to meet Grange Hill creator Phil Redmond, he thought he ought to have a fave GH character for small talk and man-of-people throwaway banter purposes. And so, courtesy of an aide with kids or more likely a laptop and internet access, Gripper entered the PM’s life.
We also learned that Liverpool was not very prepared for the arrival of his Big Society Big Idea.
One of four areas designated as BS testbeds, a spokesman for the city’s council said ‘we don’t know how it’s going to work. We have been given no information about this. You might want to ask No 10 or Eric Pickles, the minister in charge.’
Mr Pickles’ mantra was that the BS was about getting ‘more for less’, which sounded suspiciously like it was all somewhat wrapped up in the cuts agenda, something Dave denied vehemently.
But Liverpool was not alone in its ignorance about what it was meant to do as a ‘vanguard community’ and what if any funding would be available to help.
Ah, funding … Did I mention funding? On this, we learned from one voluntary group after another that funding problems are growing not receding. We learned from Liverpool’s council leader that he found it confusing to have a recent £10m cut preceding this ‘invitation’ to spearhead the BS Big IDea.
We learned too that Francis Maude, a member of the Cabinet, has been writing round colleagues warning of the potential clash between BS Big Idea and the government taking cash from wherever it can find it.
We also learned there will be some fancy new bank that will dole out cash to groups wanting to be part of the Big Society, and it will all come from dormant bank accounts. (Oh, I wish I had a grand for every time I heard ministers in the last government say why can’t we use money from dormant bank accounts? …. I can’t remember all of the answers the mandarins came up with, but memo to Dave, Eric and Francis — don’t bank your Big Society house on dormant bank accounts.
I know Barack Obama now takes precedence over Gripper Stebson, but I think a bit of flesh on the BS bones back home is called for. Otherwise Liverpool and the other vanguard communities are going to think they’ve just been used in a rather meaningless Cameroonian stunt, while George Osborne gets on with the task of cutting services provided by the State to the bone.
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