Local government 'more optimistic' about big society than voluntary sector

Survey by Third Sector and the Local Government Chronicle finds difference in attitudes to government's flagship idea

Big society survey
Big society survey

A survey by Third Sector and the Local Government Chronicle indicates that people in the voluntary sector feel less positive about most aspects of the big society than those who work in local government.

Fifty-seven per cent of sector respondents said the big society was a good thing in principle, compared with 67 per cent of respondents in county, district or unitary councils.

A higher proportion of voluntary sector respondents also claimed the big society was a way of justifying public spending cuts – 18 per cent, compared with 9 per cent of those in principal councils and 15 per cent in town and parish councils.

The survey was designed to test attitudes to the big society among staff in local authorities and the voluntary sector, who will jointly be at the forefront of stimulating community action and redesigning public services.

Online responses were invited between 23 September and 8 October from readers of both magazines. Nearly 1,200 people took part – 344 from voluntary organisations, 342 from principal councils, 369 from town and parish councils, and 142 who did not identify their organisations.

Survey results

  • Thirty-three per cent of sector respondents think the big society will never become established, compared with 21 per cent in principal and 22 per cent in local councils (see chart)
  • Fifty per cent of sector respondents think the main element of the big society is "more social action among citizens" (61 and 35 per cent)
  • Fourteen per cent of sector respondents think the big society is capable of enabling the same outcomes with significantly less funding (17 and 18 per cent)
  • Fifty-nine per cent of sector respondents think the main consequence of big society will be "little change, but with fewer council services and no increases in citizen activity" (47 and 38 per cent)
  • Eleven per cent of sector respondents think the single biggest effect for their organisation will be "greater opportunity to establish stronger communities" (21 and 27 per cent)
  • Thirty-one per cent of sector respondents say the single biggest effect would be "spending cuts" (34 and 17 per cent)
  • Fifty-five per cent of sector respondents think principal councils have the capacity to empower community involvement in designing and producing services (78 per cent and 64 per cent); 38 per cent of sector respondents think the councils have the will to do it (78 per cent and 49 per cent).

Full details and analysis of the survey, with comments from participants, will be published in the next edition of Third Sector magazine on 19 October.

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