Francis Maude speech - The Big Society and the City

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Francis Maude delivered a speech at an Institute of Directors ‘Big Society and the City’ event at Portcullis House on 20 February 2012.

Francis Maude delivered a speech at an Institute of Directors ‘Big Society and the City’ event at Portcullis House on 20 February 2012.

Check against delivery.

Introduction - What is the Big Society?

There is such a thing as society. It is, simply, what people do together, in association with each other.

And most of what we do in our lives is done with others - work, family, friends, church, schools.  Or in the words of John Donne - ‘no man is an island, entire of itself’.

And when we talk about a bigger society we mean exactly that.

The Big Society is one where more people do more things together: in their communities, for their communities, with each other, for each other.

So clearly not a new idea - in fact it’s as old as the hills.

Look back to our rich heritage of social entrepreneurs and pioneering philanthropists who campaigned against the workhouses and child labour, for better sanitation and for universal suffrage.

And look around today at the numerous local campaigns and causes to improve social housing, to save local post offices and parks, to make neighbourhoods safer.

People have always cared passionately about improving the lives of themselves, their families, their communities.

But something has capped and limited this enthusiasm and motivation to make a difference in the last few decades.

The Big Society has been thwarted by a Big State that has gradually inserted itself into every aspect of our lives, controlling everything from the centre.

It wasn’t that successive governments couldn’t talk the talk on localism and people power - but they certainly didn’t walk the walk.

And you’d find that oposition politicians in particular were all for decentralising the state. But once in government there was a tendency to decide that after all it’s very natural that’s where power should sit.

Today power is shifting. This Government believes in a bigger, stronger society that supports local initiative, local innovation and local ambition to make a difference.

We are dismantling the central state and giving local communities ownership of their own local problems and the power to create real change.

But this requires a culture change that won’t happen overnight. It’s not just about changing how politicians behave - we need to get local communities actively agitating for more power and responsibility.

So it’s not just about letting go of power - as if all you have to do is open your hands and it will flow away.

You do have to push it away, you have to mean it, you have to make it stick.

But it’s supply and demand, the more we supply power - the more the demand for it will increase.

Business and the Big Society

So what’s emerging I hope is a new picture of shared ownership, of shared responsibility and shared investment in making Britain better for all of us.

And businesses are a huge part of this canvas.

You already shape where this country is going in an economic sense - you make the money and the jobs. You make local areas prosper and thrive. You innovate and create to spur new growth.

And an economic force can of course be a social force. 

The Prime Minister has launched an initiative - Every Business Commits - which sets out areas in which government and business can work together to help build the Big Society.

Government is committed to helping businesses do well by reforms to taxation, regulation, public spending and public procurement to encourage enterprise and growth.

In return we would like a commitment from businesses to do good. To use your skills, resources and dynamism to help us tackle Britain’s social problems from worklessness and deprivation to troubled families and community breakdown.

That might sound like quite a task. But wherever your based, whatever your sector, whatever your size - there are myriad ways to get involved and make a difference.

The National Citizen Service

One cornerstone Big Society project I’m responsible for and needs real business involvement is National Citizen Service.

We launched successful pilots for NCS last year taking over 8,000 young people from all sorts of backgrounds and putting them into teams; working on projects from renovating youth centres, to revamping public parks to working with the elderly. 

These young people spent two weeks away from home, in their local communities, mixing with a diverse range of their peers, all looking to give something back - and achieve something they could be proud of.

And it’s clear that the first pilots had a really positive impact on those that took part - in many cases switching them on to their own potential.

The government has ambitious expansion plans for NCS - 2012 will see 30,000 young people on the programme and we are committed to providing 90,000 places by 2014.

Ultimately we aim to make the scheme available to all 16-year-olds so that it becomes a rite of passage.

And businesses, from large multinationals to local firms, are a fundamental part of our expansion plans.

It’s great that we have already had interest from companies such as Lloyds Banking Group  which is, I know, interested in supporting NCS and is piloting this support through its national volunteering programme this summer.

Our aim is for NCS is to create ‘work ready’ young people. The key reward for taking part in this scheme should be raised aspirations and a greater commitment to education with greater skills and knowledge to succeed in the job market.

Already our pilots have been helping young people improve their self-confidence, leadership and communication skills.

Now we are calling on businesses to take on a hugely important role supporting NCS graduates by giving them real access to the world of work.

It’s clearly never been more important that we reach out to young people and help them get a foot in the labour market.
We know that young people generally go into the jobs market disadvantaged because they the lack skills, experience and networks that older people have. 

There is clear evidence that giving them work experience can improve young people’s chances particularly by giving them the ability to make better decisions about their career aspirations, and to better plan their career path, by showing them what work is like.

A recent YouGov survey showed that young Britons who undertook four or more work-related activities while at school were five times less likely to end up not in education, employment or training (NEET) than those who recalled no work engagement while at school.

And this is backed up by an extensive piece of American research looking at high school pupils taking part in Career Academies - vocational programmes that connected them to the workforce through job shadowing, career fairs, work-based learning activities, career guidance and guest speakers.

The study found that by the age of 26 these young people were working more and earning better than their contemporaries, with similar social and educational backgrounds, who hadn’t had this work experience at high school.

Which is why we hope businesses will work with us on incentives and reward schemes for successful NCS graduates. 

This could include: guaranteed interviews for entry level jobs, preferential access to work shadowing opportunities, internships, work experience placements, apprenticeships, and support with interviews, CV building.

And all businesses should have an interest in doing this - in ensuring young people come to the job market more responsible, more skilled, better geared up for the challenge.

NCS graduation should eventually be a passport to the next stage of a young person’s life. An essential mark on anyone’s CV - that employers can look for.

We have just launched a period of market consultation on NCS and we want to hear from businesses about how they might be involved informing how we expand the programme.

And getting involved could make excellent business sense. As we open up the NCS market we expect it to be worth up to £110m by 2014.

NCS can give businesses access to a future workforce.  We are interested in exploring high profile strategic partnerships, with sponsorship opportunities across the programme.

The scheme also provides fantastic opportunities for staff development through volunteering. Whether it’s ‘Dragons’ Den’ style sessions with young people to assess fundraising bids or giving interviews about their business and work.

But for me, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for business to connect to young people and help mould a future generation of workers - including disadvantaged young people with backgrounds where no one in their family has worked for generations.

I hope that sounds like something worth signing up to.

Community Connections

And NCS is not the only way for businesses to support local communities.

We have a scheme to recruit and train 5000 Community Organisers who will be connecting with local people and tackling local problems on the ground. It’s important they are working with the business community and introducing would-be entrepreneurs and workers to local firms.

I’m keen to explore links between this programme and the Business Connectors programme that supports business to work in partnership with local community organisations and supports enterprise activity. This scheme is set up and run by Business In The Community with 6 month pilots in 20 areas funded by Cabinet Office.

Major companies including Asda, BT, Dairy Crest, Everything Everywhere, Royal Mail, Sainsbury and Greggs have, through this programme, provided senior staff on secondment to work in local communities to build networks between local businesses and local community organisations.

Underpinning initiatives like these we have also launched an £80million Community First fund to provide small grants to community groups and local social action projects.

And £50million of this will be used to match private donations invested in community endowment funds that will pay out small grants in the future.

None of these initiatives should operate in silo because we need local firms, local community groups and local leaders to be connecting over local issues and working out solutions together. That’s how we make the Big Society a reality.

Social Investment Market

These initiatives will also create huge opportunities for an emerging market of social sector organisations.

Social enterprises have a clear commitment to improving Britain in some way but they are also in essence businesses that create jobs.

And they are benefiting from a range of government measures from opening up public sector contracts to new kinds of providers, to enabling local communities to run services and take over local assets.

But a more powerful social investment market will stimulate social innovation further and support employment among some of the most disadvantaged communities, spurring economic growth.

Just as the venture capital market developed in the UK in the 1980s to allow business enterprise to flourish, the vision is to develop a sustainable market for social investment to invest in social enterprise.

Government is also doing everything it can to make it easier for social enterprises to set up and to grow.

Our world leading initiative Big Society Capital is weeks away from being a fully operational, independent organisation and it is ready to transform the world of social finance for charities and social enterprises by unlocking the money they need to grow when a big opportunity comes along.

This process has already started. While establishing Big Society Capital, the Big Society Investment Fund has been making the kinds of investments in intermediaries that we expect BSC to make.

The organisation FranchisingWorks for example has received £1million to help long-term unemployed people set up their own franchise business.


So I’ve outlined some of the work we’re doing to make the Big Society a reality today and I hope it’s piqued your interest.
The Big State didn’t work well for Britain. It left us with huge gaps and disconnections in society; between generations, between the north and south, between the rich and the poor.

The Big Society can help us narrow that gap not by imposing uniform solutions on communities with different problems and challenges. But by allowing communities themselves to improve their services, their neighbourhoods, their prospects.

Businesses of all sizes, of all sectors that play such a key role in deciding the future and success of local communities and this country as a whole have got to be involved. 

And in the future if we can solve many of the social problems that overburden the state, it will help us move to an era of lower taxation and more handsoff government.

So my message to businesses is sign up to the Big Society, seize the opportunities it presents and it will be good for you - and good for Britain.