The government’s Giving White Paper published last week highlighted to me one of the key issues I’ve been wrestling with for some time in the context of the government’s Big Society plans: the tension between the devolution of power and money to local communities and the economies of scale and impact which can be achieved by central co-ordination.
It’s good to see the White Paper gives a framework to some of the rather nebulous ideas that have been floating around for the last year. The package of measures outlined, including a new Social Action Fund, investment in the Do-it website, and a planned Giving Summit in the autumn, help organisations like UK online centres to get a clear understanding of how our activities align with wider priorities.
Another reason I liked it is that it allays one of my earlier fears: that with the renewed focus on localism and self-organisation, national frameworks would become a thing of the past. Since my day job is as the Managing Director of a national organisation supporting 3,800 community partners you might expect me to advocate for national co-ordination, but my concerns go much wider than my own self-interest.
Take volunteering, for example. Without Do-it, the national volunteering database, each local area would have to create its own volunteering database, leading to duplication of effort and wasted expenditure.
In the early days of UK online centres, local centres would run their own local awareness raising campaigns, with patchy success and frustrations with inadequate local marketing expertise. We now have a highly successful national Get online week, which in partnership with Race Online 2012, the BBC, the Post Office and other major national partners, saw the monthly number of new people going to UK online centres double last October.
National co-ordination has got a bad press in recent months with stories of over-inflated quangos and pointless targets. But delivered in a light-touch way, in collaboration with community partners, it can achieve scale, impact and efficiencies which are simply not possible if everything is devolved to the local level.
The direction of travel signalled in the Giving White Paper seems to me to be the right one. With a national framework which sets out clear and practical initiatives but stops short of setting targets, organisations at all levels have the freedom to decide whether this is something they want to be part of.
And the Social Action Fund asks if there’s something truly game changing and scalable. Well I think I may have an idea …..