The Big Society in the UK

We talked about the ”Big Society” policy in the UK during our Cycling for libraries, at Fürstenberg an der Havel. Big Society is the government policy of David Cameron’s conservative Tory-party in the UK.

The policy has it’s own website, and the Wikipedia-article gives an overview. And try google too.

The basic idea there is to narrow the functions of the public sector, and at least in rhetorics, empower the people by supporting the third sector (volunteering, NGO, etc). This is of course right-wing liberalism and de-regulation.

Perhaps the most interesting take on the Big Society -policy i have seen is the BBC Analysis programme from 20th February 2011, available online (30 minutes).

The ”big society” – the idea that volunteers should take over some of the functions of the state – is the most over-used policy phrase of the moment. But how will the theory work in practice?
Chris Bowlby looks at the big society on the ground in Oxford – from the affluent streets of the City’s North to the deprived estates of Blackbird Leys – and tries to figure out the consequences of expecting communities to do more for themselves.

I truly wish we had had some participants from UK at Cycling for libraries. However i met one quite out-spoken colleague from the UK in Berlin, unfortunately i don’t have his card right here. It would have been fantastic to get first-hand contact to their discussions there; as an anecdote, i have heard that some public libraries in the UK have been handed over to volunteer, religious groups.

From a Finnish library point of view this policy seems quite weird, but i can see the liberalist arguments. We have a regulated public library system here, regulated by a specific law since 1928. However Finland is a nation of NGOs, but all the public libraries are run by the city/municipality and the law states what kind  of education the staff must have. However, there is a lot of manoeuvrability within the framework of the law. Basically the current law states that the city/municipality is responsible for making sure the library services exist, and satisfy the very vague requirements. It certainly does not outrule f.ex. running library services on a totally voluntary basis, as long as the certain requirements are met.

On the other hand, the Finnish public sector organizations are fostering a sort of a ”precariate” of temporary workers and project workers, for whom they can get funding from the state (employment office, social services, ministry of education and culture).

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