The mutual moment and the case for the “Little Society”?

The appointment of a new government clearly means a lot of change in the coming months. It is too early to speculate the detail, as discussions of many manifesto commitments will no doubt take some while and be dependent on the early budget, a spending review in the Autumn and a likely review of local government finance.

Discussions between the coalition partners will need to combine parts of David Cameron’s Big Society and Nick Clegg’s localism. What might be common elements? Some senior Conservative commentators such as Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home have expressed a view about the  Big Society not being clear enough. Was the use of the term “Big”, perhaps a little too conceptual for many voters to grasp and might it have sounded too frightening for some? Perhaps the coalition discussions and wider public debate provide an opportunity for refining this agenda?

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats support less targets, more devolution to the frontline and a commitment to mutual and co-operative provision. Perhaps the eventual coalition compromise here will be for a localised “Little Society” of mutuals?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, there is already an existing model that could be rapidly developed further. NHS Foundation Trusts already have over a million members. TCC know a lot about them having recruited 1 in 6 of them for NHS Trusts. Their members have already made a commitment to local public service provision. Would those members be interested in being the core membership for other local mutual organisations providing other public services? Do we also need to redevelop communications and marketing to reach out to a wider range of people, even those whose values may make them less trusting of big institutions and who may see co-production or the other idea of the “Easy-Council” concept as a threat?

Maybe the “Little Society” could eventually be a “big idea” that emerges from this change of government?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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