Home Gloucester The fundamental flaw with “Big Society” from personal experience

The fundamental flaw with “Big Society” from personal experience

by Barry
Michael Gove speaking at the Conservative Part...

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I have ran a few volunteer organisations over the past few years, which is why the whole idea of Localism and Big Society is not really a new thing for me, or any one of us. From the Sunday morning rugby club, to the residents associations, there are many people who volunteer on a weekly basis for the good of others.

But there is a fundamental flaw with the Volunteer organisation and that is the accountability. What happens when someone in the organisation just is not performing? As a leader, you have no real “sticks” to use, and if things go bad, they can just walk, and if things go really well, you have no “carrots” with which to reward effort. However, this is not the real problem, as I find the personal pride of the volunteer is normally enough, the real problem is accountability to the public. What happens when a leader, or the entire organisation does not perform as well as the public would like? It is normally really hard to find a volunteer, never mind someone “dumb” enough to lead it, but if people start questioning performance and maybe even asking for resignations, what happens then. Presumably if it has got that far, then the poor volunteer has already suffered because of it, and then to go through the further strife, why would they bother – they will probably walk. Most likely, they will have been asked to resign by people who have no idea what it is like to do such things and have never volunteered a days worth of effort themselves. So, the person walks, what happens to the organisation, they lose a key person (it doesn’t matter who it is, every volunteer is key because they are there) and depending on the psychological impact, the organisation could fold.

Why is it personal experience? I have lost good people who have worked with me because it’s just too much hassle, reading grief on websites, and interactions with people do not always “glide along”. I have also had my own performance called into question and while I am happy with what I do, there are those dark days when you wonder why you bother!

Many people ask “why should I bother”. And it will become a common problem when these organisations are full of people who are doing things because they have to rather than they want to. We will see libraries ran by parents who barely have enough time for themselves, forests ran by people who don’t really know what they are doing, but know that losing the forest is a bad thing, health ran by GPs who learned medicine, not accounting.

I love doing what I can, while supporting my family. I often ask myself how I keep on top of what I do, and invariably its my family who suffer in the end and I know that the balance is always hard and difficult decisions have to be made. From not having time to help with our allotment, to not being able to go to weddings that I want to go to. But I choose it. Imagine HAVING to do it, all the time, just to keep our communities alive, as well as having to work all the hours god sends to keep your job and pay the rising bills and taxes as the economy declines.

You won’t have to imagine for long, its very nearly here….

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Joe K January 30, 2011 - 4:22 pm

That makes depressing reading, Barry. I ask myself the same question, ‘why do I bother?’ The last time was when I walked past the doors of Barton Community Centre one afternoon and only then discovered that they were entertaining Richard Graham and Paul James for a public meeting, despite the number of times I have invited news of any such events to be passed on to the partnership. Our meeting attendences tend to be 50% Asian, and 50% what Eddie would call the ‘indigenous’ population, the leaders of the African Caribbean community having effectively boycotted the organisation, but it’s a condition of our council grant that we engage with the whole community. Not good when a large lump of that community is set apart from us.

You may be aware that the Elmbridge Neighbourhood Partnership is considering disbanding (as the Moreland Community Partnership has already). and may have done so, their AGM having taken place yesterday. This isn’t because they were at odds with their councillors, as with Moreland, but because not enough people were volunteering. My view is that any partnership, even if it is effectively in hibernation, is better than none, as it will still be there when residents ever decide they want something done. I therefore hope they soldier on.

If we do become two ‘ships down (and I’ve heard rumours about Three Bridges), it may cast doubts on the five (or is it seven?) a side football tournament the BTNP is considering hosting between the partnerships at GL1 in the summer (beside my own doubts about a tournament which will be all male in effect, if not in decree). Even if it happens, it may be too little, too late. Blowing our own trumpets seems to be the thing we have the most trouble with, and being blanked by The Citizen doesn’t help…

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