Will Britain's "Big Society" Version of Localism Work?

The Globe & Mail takes an in-depth look at Prime Minister David Cameron's "Big Society" agenda, which will devolve power to local communities and see an "army" of volunteers responsible for such things as running schools and maintaining parks.
February 15, 2011, 1pm PST | Michael Dudley
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Britain's coalition government is moving forward on an aggressive austerity agenda coupled with a call for a "Big Society" based on local control, participatory budgeting and volunteerism. Critics worry, however, that its lofty rhetoric may be window-dressing for ideologically-motivated and regressive budget cuts.

"In a political shakeup that is already in turmoil and is being watched carefully by other leaders around the world, Mr. Cameron's government is moving rapidly to make decision-making more local, to remove red tape so that communities can have greater say in how public money is spent, and to build an army of volunteers...who will shoulder the burden of delivering public services just as the axe of budget-cutting falls.

To its proponents, the Big Society is a gloriously liberating chance to tear up the rule book and hand it back to Nigel Public for rewriting. It's the same democratic and civic impulse that led to crowd-sourcing and locavorism, except with a government seal of approval. To its varied and vocal detractors, the Big Society is an ideological exercise in dismantling the welfare state, a return to Victorian disequilibrium where the many disadvantaged rely on the goodwill of the obliging few."

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Published on Friday, February 11, 2011 in The Globe and Mail
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