Big Society - should we sign up?

As a social entrepreneur I feel like I really ought to support the Big Society. The idea of people, not government, deciding what they need and how it should be delivered appeals to me a lot. Practical, flexible, responsive, innovative solutions come out of unexpected places and in many ways, this is what Poached is all about.

Yet there are two big problems I just keep running up against when it comes to this Big Society idea of David Cameron's.

1. It's a political idea that's attached to a political ideology that I'm not sure I want to be aligned with. Social enterprise isn't the place for party politics and I'm sure a lot of people in the third sector are finding this political association a bit uncomfortable. So, I can't see it succeeding unless we can find a way to depoliticise 'Big Society' and convince communities that they really do have the power. But for this to happen, the money has to follow the initiatives. Which brings me to the next big problem.

2. Where's the money? The public sector doesn't have it - in fact public sector cuts are already having an affect on social enterprise support. The private sector doesn't have it - and in the UK a high proportion of private sector companies rely on public sector business so the recovery isn't looking so great after all. The Government doesn't seem to have it (or certainly doesn't want to give it away) and the third sector sure doesn't have it. It seems that the banks do have some of it - in disused bank accounts - and this is going to be pulled together into a Big Society Bank, due to open in April 2011, with somewhere between £60 million and £100 million. But loan funding alone won't be enough. And volunteers won't be able to run public services for nothing.

The Government is right in thinking that the people who use services and the staff who provide them know how best to redesign those services. Many of them already have - and we have a thriving social enterprise and charity sector to prove it.

But what I've learnt since setting up a social enterprise is this. Disadvantaged people do need support to find their own solutions, projects do need funding, and people do need to get paid for their hard work.

Thanks to UnLtd and the Big Society Network for getting the thinking started with their event last Wednesday. Find out more about the event.