What does big society mean? This appears to mean different things to different stakeholders and until there is a coherent and shared viewpoint frictions and possibly fractures within the system will ultimately be a detriment to the very people it is intended to serve.
Is it about involving people in the community and transforming us in to a social society rather than a individualistic?
Is it about finding alternative revenue streams and methods of delivery for essential public services given the spending policy decisions of governments and local authorities?
Has due consideration been given to the current volunteers and their motivations which are predominantly beneficiery or ideologically driven.
The NCVO is highlighting problems in funding cuts to the volunteer sector under cutting the development of the “Big Society” but this is only a tip of the iceburg.
Volunteering and social activity is becoming a way for many young people to enhance CVs and stand out from the crowd. Even talk of future care benefits in return for volunteering.
There is a move to outsource large contracts to private providers who will commission third parties (including charities) to carry out the work. This is causing ethical concerns for volunteers working freely for profit making organisations at arms length.
Most of the current voluntery sector is beneficiary driven and this group seems to be getting least consideration in the debate, which is causing great dilemmas for many in the voluntery sector who are desperately looking for ways to mitigate the impact of cuts on their constituents.
We seem to be having a three way (at least) pull. Some seeing compassion as a commodity to be used for future benefits (CV or other rewards) as per the Public Choice theoretical background. Some seeing it as a way (possibly contractually) to devolve some essential services to unpaid volunteers in a a Principal-Agent relationship based on needs to meet minimum standards. And others seeing their advocacy and enhancements roles for beneficieries being replaced by the need to protect beneficieries by changing their ethos.
We are in danger of commodifying compassion and achieving the opposite outcome of the aims of encouraging a community ethos.