Over the past ten years, people working on the margins and with communities have been creating the connectivity between local people, public services and innovators – yet, these are the very people who are now losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs because their work is inbetween organisations and is not part of mainstream. Unsurprisingly this is affecting women more than men and making more innovative community solutions less likely to be recognised by public commissioners, many of whom are now also thin on the ground. Those that are left in the civil services and local services as commissioners are not necessarily the more open of staff but those at the core most at home in the mainstream and least experienced at connecting with social innovators or communities.
There is a missing conversation about which people are more affected by dramatic cuts, and what skills are needed to deal with chaos and constant change – there is now doubt that public servants do need to change. Even the third sector needs to raise its game, become more engage and less focused on management transactions. Yet, the issue of of staff capacity and capacity building has almost disappeared since the election in May 2010.
The fact that public servants have been promoted for their performance and project management skills did not help Labout transform the public services and neither will it help the Coalition build a Bigger Society. Whatever reform agenda – its not the economy that matters so much as the people and their capacity to collaborate. Valuing people is part of the Coalition rhetoric but it is only those enterprising folk in communities who are seen as an asset, the public workforce has been degraded as a dispendable commodity that can be counted out.
Cameron is allowing his chancellor to frame the big economic debate to rebalance the economy, indiscriminately cutting the public sector across the country in a very short time frame and undermining the very public connections and capacities that are needed to connect Big Society solutions with the wider public sector and local strategic leaders. Influenced as much by Blair’ statement that ” you should get as much reform done in the first year as you can” - he and the cabinet are ignoring the impact of this on the capacity of the country to function and for innovation to take root as well as on individuals.
Over the past five years, many of public staff have been working across agencies, with each other and with communities – it the civil service that has been slowest to change and to learn skills and to value of networks that form the web of the connections between innovators in communities and those in public bodies that is necessary for any more personalised service to spread.
Now that the dust is settling on the Big Society – it is time for a much more open conversation about how the Big Society is going to get connected and how public servants are develop the capacities necessary for community solutions, shared services and strategi locality commissioing to work, without which local solutions will remain patchy schemes and the Big Society a concept that is appropriate for small towns and villages in the South but weak and unrealistic in terms of addressing inequalities in the north.The
The missing conversation is about a government strategy on how to forge connections and develop public capabilities .