OPINION: Why we should think local and then act global

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The environmental slogan "think global, act local" seems to have taken on a new resonance with the Government's approach to the future of service delivery.

In the past 10 days, Gordon Brown has talked about "a new localism", with local authorities at "the heart of public services". Tony Blair describes "a government that enables and empowers, rather than directs and controls".

They all see engaging voluntary organisations as a major plank of localism and the catalyst to making local engagement happen.

Hooray! For years we have been doing just that. But right now it truly feels that government, voluntary organisations and local authorities are realising that charities are made up of people genuinely engaged with their communities and making "localism" a reality.

There is also an acknowledgement that the concept of "big" voluntary organisations as "bad" and out of touch, while small ones are flexible and adaptive is somewhat spurious. Many big organisations work through devolved local structures (for example Guide Dogs has 32 local teams), empowering people to make decisions, be accountable and, above all, be relevant at a local level.

What is new, however, is the ways in which funding patterns are changing.

No longer are voluntary organisations lured into subsidising local authority shortfalls. Joint planning and cross-sector partnerships have combined existing money from both voluntary and statutory agencies to extend the reach of services.

Finally, the opportunity to invest the Treasury's £125 million for building capacity and infrastructure in the voluntary sector offers a further unique opportunity - to see if we can encourage the private sector to join us and make their money "work smarter" too. This needs central and local government to create "freedom within a framework" and incentivise private-sector services at a local level; build on the fact that many "big" voluntary organisations work through local networks; resist superimposing new structures and galvanise links across traditional boundaries.

Let's turn that environmental slogan on its head and try to "Think locally, act globally".

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