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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Abbott led opposition to adopt UK style Big Society policies

 Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald Lenore Taylor traces the influence of the UK Conservative Government's Big Society agenda on the Coalition Opposition's social policy agenda for the next election.
Coalition frontbenchers have been instructed to slice away federal bureaucratic oversight of aged care, childcare, employment and family services in a bid to devolve government power and deliver budget savings through public service cuts.
The Coalition, which needs to find more than $30 billion in spending cuts, will pledge cuts to the bureaucracy, but says it will not hit frontline services. The policy is in line with the controversial ''Big Society'' philosophy of British thinker Phillip Blond, who was in Canberra this week for meetings with Coalition leader Tony Abbott and most of his frontbench.
Coalition families spokesman Kevin Andrews told The Saturday Age he had developed the model for stripping unnecessary federal oversight of federally funded services delivered by community and private organisations.

But Big Society rhetoric provides cover for severe austerity measures and a fundamental transformation of the delivery of publicly funded human and community services. 
 
In the UK Big Society rhetoric was used to justify sweeping cuts to public services, to community services and even to the community and voluntary organisations it was supposed to nurture.
 
It has also produced the largest ever privatisation of human and community services in UK history with large swathes of the human and community services industry now under the control of private corporations.

Despite promises by the UK Government that local devolution would primarily benefit small community based not- for- profit, it has been large corporations who have been the real winners.

Taylor notes, correctly, that:
But in Britain, the outsourcing program that was supposed to benefit little community groups ended up giving enormous contracts to large corporations, such as Serco, which runs Australia's detention centres, and in some parts of Britain now runs all the government-funded schools.
The implications of the Big Society agenda for Australia are well documented in a recent report by the Centre for Policy Development titled Big Society: How the UK Government is Dismantling the State and what it means for Australia. 

The Report shows among other things that the reality of Big Society Agenda is vastly different to its rhetoric. The impacts of the Big Society programs in the UK have included:
  • An £81 billion cut in public spending over four years including an average 19 per cent budget cut to government agencies, 60 per cent cut to the budget for new public housing and £7 billion cut to the welfare budget.
  • The UK’s public service is expected to shrink by up to 710,000 public servants over six years.
  • Corporations and the largest charities have dominated the commissioning process: 35 of 40 Work Programme (employment agency) contracts were awarded to corporations.
  • Cameron’s budgets have dealt a £5 billion funding cut to the UK’s community sector and funding cuts of £110 million to 2,000 UK charities
  • The number of people employed in the UK’s community sector fell by 70,000.
  • Local government budgets were cut by more than a quarter in 2010-11 resulting in staff cuts of 10-20 per cent and widespread cuts to programs.
  • During 2010-11, public sector employment fell by 4.3 per cent. Private sector employment increased by 1.5 per cent.

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