Cross party commission on Big Society urges banks to reinvest 1% in social good
A year on from the Prime Minister’s launch of the Big Society programme an independent, cross party commission is calling on government to “fill in the blanks” on Big Society and for banks to go further in their support of it. It also points the finger at the business sector for what they call ‘tokenistic’ corporate social responsibility strategies that are ‘more about marketing than making a difference’.
Powerful people, responsible society, the commission’s final report launched on May 16 embraces the Big Society as an agenda that ‘should transcend party politics’ but criticises government for failing to articulate a clear plan on Big Society. Research conducted by the commission based on the responses of 2,500 UK adults, finds that only 13% of the public believe the Government has a clear plan for Big Society.
The commission, established last December by ACEVO, the representative body for charity leaders in order to help civil society leaders define a vision of what civil society should mean, aims to recommend practical steps for government at all levels, third sector organisations and others need to take to make that vision a reality.
It brings together politicians from across the political spectrum and civil society leaders including Lord Rennard, Nick Boles MP, Lord Boateng, the Bishop of London and charity CEOs such as Dame Clare Tickell. Their report urges the Prime Minister to seize the reins in driving forward the Big Society agenda, and calls for a sea change in the way banks engage with the UK’s communities.
Its final report calls for a commitment from the banks to reinvest a minimum of 1% of pre-tax profits for social good. Its research found that 74% of UK adults believed if banks made such a commitment to the community sector rather than their shareholders, it would do a lot to restore banking’s image.
“The Project Merlin talks were a historic opportunity for the banks to do that – but they did not seize it. Their failure to do so is particularly disappointing given the vast sums of public money that have been spent on keeping them afloat. It therefore falls to the government to use a variety of measures to ‘nudge’ the UK’s banking sector towards greater social responsibility,” it adds.
Supporting the Social Investment Taskforce’s conclusion that voluntary transparency in the banking sector has failed, the commission looks to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) which was launched in the United States in 1977 as a measure of enforced transparency through a CRA rating system that rewards social investors. The system has led to specific community-focus units and partnerships with social investors.
The report also:
- urges the Prime Minister to take the reins, and more personal responsibility, in driving forward the Big Society in Whitehall
- calls on government to better align and target resources towards better definition of measurement of, and accountability for success in fostering the Big Society.
- recommends a new, reformulated, Big-Society focused version of the Invest to Save Budget to invest in ground-breaking big society-related initiatives.
- warns that local council cuts risk undermining the Big Society, and calls on Whitehall to set more “rules of the road” for local authorities. Research by the commission finds nearly 7 in 10 members of the public think councils should not be allowed to make disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector
- suggests plans for an extra ‘Big Society bank holiday’ be scrapped, and replaced with new rights for employees to request time off, costing the economy less and providing an army of 10 million more adults to engage in voluntary activity. Polling found more people would take up these new rights than would volunteer on a new bank holiday
The government responded to the findings in a comment from the Cabinet Office saying: “We welcome the huge interest among charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises in developing the Big Society.
“We are already making progress on many of the areas highlighted. This summer the Big Society Bank will start investing in good causes, 11,000 16 year olds will be the first to trial the National Citizen Service and we will take further steps to open public services to the voluntary sector.”
“We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and continue to work with ACEVO and other groups to build a bigger, stronger society.”
Commenting on the report, commission chair Lord Rennard (former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats) said: “As a commission we truly support the vision of a Big Society. We believe that as a concept it has the potential to transcend party politics. The Conservatives do not have copyright on Big Society – its roots and its prospects of success lie with all of us, in Westminster and beyond. However overnment’s current failure to communicate plans effectively is breeding cynicism and means they are in danger of leaving the public behind.”
Nick Boles MP, commission member, said: “As the report makes clear, the Prime Minister’s vision of the Big Society is strongly welcomed by people across the political spectrum and throughout the voluntary sector. But the leadership shown by No. 10 and the Cabinet Office has not been matched by all government departments and local authorities. These gaps need to be addressed if we are to realise the full potential of the Big Society.”
Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of ACEVO, which set up the commission, said: “I welcome the Big Society vision and the prominent place it accords the third sector as a prime engine of positive social change, but I have always said the government faces an uphill struggle to make its vision a reality. I hope this report will provide it with added impetus and new ideas to do so.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: “This report is a positive step forward in setting out the roles that everyone needs to play to get the Big Society agenda up and running. Partnership working and a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead will be essential if the government wants to counter the current cynicism and get the voluntary sector and the communities it serves to buy fully into the idea.
“Having launched our own action plan around the Big Society, we are pleased that the report shares much of NCVO’s current thinking, especially around recommendations to government and the importance of voluntary and community organisations reflecting on their impact and efficiency. The report also makes strong recommendations on the importance of getting business on board in building the Big Society; this echoes the work of our Funding Commission, which picked up that many businesses recognise the mutual benefits that giving schemes and community engagement can bring.
“NCVO welcomes the opportunity to work with our members and the rest of the sector to take the report’s recommendations forward. The recommendations may be ambitious, but Big Society needs to be coherent and properly resourced if it is to deliver maximum benefits to individuals and communities.”
Powerful people, responsible society can be downloaded from the ACEVO website.