"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Big Society

We all know that the Big Society is all about cuts and reducing the state, but how does this work? Well here is a simple example that shows how we will be expected to pay for public services from our pockets rather than out of our wage packets.

We are a maritime nation with a long history of sea trade. We are also a nation with some of the most treacherous seas on the globe. In such a situation you would expect that it would be a basic public service to protect the vessels that supply us and are used to export the good we make. Yes, we have the Coastguard. The Maritime and Coastguard Agencyprovide the following service (from their website)

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency implements the government's maritime safety policy in the UK.and works to prevent the loss of life on the coast and at sea. We provide a 24-hour maritime search and rescue service around the UK coast and in the international search and rescue region through HM Coastguard and inspect and survey ships to ensure that they are meeting UK and international safety rules. We also provide certification to seafarers, register vessels and respond to pollution from shipping and offshore installations.
Clearly they are there to make sure that in an emergency ship passengers and sailors will be rescued. They currently have 19 stations around the country. These are paid out of taxation, that is, a little bit of your wage packet goes to pay for the Coastguard whether or not you live near the sea or ever go on it.

Let me now introduce you to the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. This is what their website says that they do:

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. We provide a 24-hour lifeboat search and rescue service around the coasts of the UK and RoI, as well as a seasonal lifeguard service on many of the busiest beaches in England and Wales.
The RNLI have 235 lifeboat stations and 444 lifeboats. They are funded entirely by public donations. They do not get a penny from the government (British or Irish). The public pays for this service out of their pockets. Some donors may live by the sea, but others don't. The organisation depends on the generosity of ordinary people.

Notice some overlap between what the RNLI does and what the Coastguard does? One is paid by public donation and the other from taxation. One is subject to spending cuts, the other feels it has a moral duty to provide the service.

The Conservative government has decided to cut the number of Coastguard stations from 19 to 8 as part of its spending cuts. The reason why they can do this is that they know that the RNLI will always provide search and rescue, even if the UK government decides that it won't. This is the Big Society.

This is how we will find the Big Society will be used to implement the cuts. The government will cut a service and concerned citizens, or existing charities will feel that in a civilised society someone must provide the service. The government will remove itself from providing public services and so will not have the cost. The ultimate aim is that the government will be able to reduce taxes. The alternative provider, the concerned citizens ("social enterprises") or charities cannot provide the service with no funding. So consequently we will dip into our pockets to support them.

This is the Big Society.

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