It’s what post-Brexit Britain needsby Dan Corry / May 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
The term “civil society” is often thought by policymakers to mask a lack of real ideas. You can see why—it is a slightly nebulous concept that stretches from the establishment, such as the Church of England and Edmund Burke’s “little platoons,” to the radical fringe, like the Occupy movement and Greenpeace. In between are the trade unions, mutuals and co-ops; the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides; the dog lovers; and the myriad of local community groups. It is also called the voluntary sector, or the third sector (after the state and private ones).
But we have a programme that could change that, and give the term “civil society” real meaning and bite. Politicians of all stripes should pursue this programme, but it ought to have a particular appeal to the Opposition, as Labour searches to relate progressive politics to the lives and concerns of citizens in an era of uncertainty and dislocation.
First, we need to ensure that the government machine is supporting rather than hindering the sector. We need “civil society” units in every key department that look out for opportunities for the voluntary sector to achieve outcomes rather than relying on top-down, statist approaches. This must be backed by a unit in the Cabinet Office and a voice at the Cabinet table. All major public services—health, education, criminal justice, and so on—need a strategy to involve civil society, scrutinised by the relevant select committees.
We need to ensure civil society is represented at a local level, as the unit of power (we hope) increasingly becomes more localised, with more devolution, elected mayors, and strong combined authorities. In some cases, this may mean representatives from the voluntary sector having places on decision-making boards and bodies—although we do not want to insist on one institutional mechanism to fit all.
One of the key roles of civil society is supporting and creating social capital, the glue that binds communities together. But that is hard in many areas, especially in those that are short of resources. We need access to real-time data, a social infrastructure index to monitor the spaces and places where interaction takes place, from parks and libraries, to sports facilities and meals on wheels. We also need more support…