Gareth Davies calls for culture change to make big society work

Head of the Office for Civil Society tells MPs the agenda will work only if Whitehall adapts its way of thinking

Office for Civil Society
Office for Civil Society

Gareth Davies, head of the Office for Civil Society, has warned that there must be a culture change in Whitehall to make the big society agenda work.

"The big society is not something that happens overnight," he told a hearing of the Public Administration Select Committee, as part of its inquiry into the big society agenda."These reforms will take time, both in terms of formally putting through reforms like the Localism Bill, but also in terms of the culture change needed both in Whitehall and the way in which policy is made."

MPs on the committee asked what the big society agenda meant for government ministers and the civil service.

Davies said the three main aspects were the implementation of specific big society policies such as the Localism Bill, changing commissioning so that public services were delivered by a range of providers and encouraging a new way of thinking, demonstrated by the "nudge unit" within the Cabinet Office, which encouraged the "incubation of new ideas".

Davies also said there was a recognition within government that, when commissioning services, it was bad practice to look for the cheapest option.

Also giving evidence to the hearing, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said: "The big society brand has become toxic. The government has to say what it is."

He said there was no way of measuring the progress of the agenda and this was "an abrogation of accountability".

Labour MP Paul Flynn, a member of the committee, said at the hearing that the big society agenda was a "dead parrot".

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