DON’T POLITICISE BIG SOCIETY ANIMATEURS

I hope my sense of déjà vu is not realised when one aspect of David Cameron`s Big Society comes into being (Report, 19 February). It is that the intended national cadre of five thousand community organisers are hijacked to become political foot soldiers. Were this to happen it would divert energy from one most laudable intention,that of assisting recipients of services to adjust to the various proposed reforms.

As a social scientist in Canada in the nineteen sixties who had been observing the emergence of the community organisation movement I saw, in 1976, power change hands from the ruling Québec Liberal Party of Robert Bourassa to the socialist Parti Québecois led by René Lévésque. The history that led up to this could be instructive to both government and opposition members

In 1967, the Castonguay-Nepveu Commission designed the arrangements for the first provincial publically-funded medical care plan. This was implemented from 1970 under Bourassa. Included was the setting up across the province of 150 or so local  centres with a very broad social remit. These were developed using `animateurs social`, or community organisers, working alongside citizens` committees.

Given the socialist origins of the community development movement, it later came as no surprise that the animateurs had come from its ranks. Using social networks, they had grown and nurtured the political grass roots for the incoming Lévésque government as an adjunct to their formal duties.

In May 2010 The Cabinet Office issued `Building the Big Society` in which it promises to “train a new generation of community organisers and support the creation of neighbourhood groups across the UK, especially in the most depressed areas”. But, in so doing, let it be hoped that this can be managed by Locality (the implementing contractor) without the additional burden of time- wasting political machination from either the Coalition or Opposition.

Disadvantaged citizens, along with others at the grass roots attempting to build the Big Society, need all the straightforward apolitical help they can be given to survive the next few years.

 Written by Morton Warner, Emeritus Professor, WIHSC

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