Magazine article Public Finance

2020 Trust Calls for Big Society Cohesion

Magazine article Public Finance

2020 Trust Calls for Big Society Cohesion

Article excerpt

The government has been managing expectations of October's Comprehensive Spending Review since June's emergency Budget, and voters now know to expect harsh cuts in services and benefits. But although Prime Minister David Cameron has coined a phrase - the 'Big Society' - to describe his plans for service reform, it is unclear whether the post-CSR period will herald a new public sector philosophy.

The 2020 Public Services Trust set up a commission IH months ago to investigate this very issue, and it published its final report on September 14. Its cross-party line-up - including politicians, academics and leaders from the public, private and voluntary sectors - say a definitive, overarching vision must be spelt out soon.

Sir Andrew Foster, PST commission chair and former controller of the Audit Commission, tells Public Finance that the combination of spending cuts and an ageing population require a rethink of the welfare state from scratch, just as Lord Beveridge's report did in the 1940s.

On the basis of reforms introduced by the coalition so far, Foster is concerned that there is no such broad-perspective thinking. 'There are some big questions about how it hangs together,' he says.

'If you look at the schools stuff, GPs commissioning health services... how do these things inter- relate? What are the long-term implications? How will commissioning of public servicestake place at a local level, if you're not going to have so much control from the centre? That isn't clear to me yet,'

Many of the proposals in Foster's report. From social security to social productivity: a vision for 2020 PiiblicScn'ices,beur a strong resemblance to Big Society ideas. For instance, it recommends allowing citizens to take over public services and run them as mutuals, and scrapping central inspectorates in favour of greater transparency over spending.

The commission also advocates Total Place-style local budgets, in which extra autonomy is given in return for a reduction in funding. Services should be designed around the real needs of citizens, rather than the funding streams of Whitehall.

But the PST commissioners aren't happy about the way the coalition is making these changes. 1We welcome |the| impulse to shift power towards ci ti /. …

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