Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Not So Big Society

This story is second hand, so I cannot be certain all the facts are true, though I have no reason to believe the teller was insincere. There was a group, calling themselves Friends of Croydon Library, who both volunteered but also raised funds for the library service. The funds raised were not mega bucks but significant sums, allow the libraries to do things they would otherwise not be able to.

This kind of group numbering at its height over 40, is the kind of effort that the Big Society embraced. Local people getting together to help deliver services. Sadly the group recently disbanded, and the reason was an unforeseen consequence of the desire to drive down cost. The management of the library service is being passed to a private contractor, who will clearly be seeking to drive down operating costs. Fair enough, but one of the unforeseen consequences has been the disbanding of the Friends Group.

I asked why this had happened. The explanation  was that the group did not feel they should be volunteering to deliver things a private contractor was being paid to do. I do feel there is probably a misunderstanding at the heart of this that could have been resolved. They could not see how could contribute when a private contractor was in place. Clearly the contract is providing the service, it has not bought the libraries. I will have a contract specification and there would be an opportunity to deliver things that feel outside that remit.  However what struck me most was that the failure to find that resolution means that a ready made group of people with true Big Society commitment will disintegrate and be lost. That is terrible shame for all concerned.