Big Society | How the UK gov’t is dismantling the state and what it means for Australia | LANDMARK REPORT

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Download Big Society and Australia report (5mB .pdf)

“Bush declared war on terror, Blair declared war on crime and it’s like Cameron has declared war on the public sector.”

It’s just over two years since David Cameron was elected as British Prime Minister. Since his election, Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ policies that have ‘redefined the role of the state’. By commissioning ‘any willing provider’, the UK Government has contracted corporations to play a dominant role in delivering a wide range of services that were previously managed by public servants or community groups. Other ‘Big Society’ changes have diminished the capacity of the public and community sectors. The impacts of the Big Society programs in the UK have included:

  • An £81 billion cut in public spending over four years including an average 19 per cent budget cut to government agencies,60 per cent cut to the budget for new public housing and £7 billion cut to the welfare budget.
  • The UK’s public service is expected to shrink by up to 710,000 public servants over six years.
  • Corporations and the largest charities have dominated the commissioning process: 35 of 40 Work Programme (employment agency) contracts were awarded to corporations.
  • Cameron’s budgets have dealt a £5 billion funding cut to the UK’s community sector and funding cuts of £110 million to 2,000 UK charities
  • The number of people employed in the UK’s community sector fell by 70,000.
  • Local government budgets were cut by more than a quarter in 2010-11 resulting in staff cuts of 10-20 per cent and widespread cuts to programs.
  • During 2010-11, public sector employment fell by 4.3 per cent. Private sector employment increased by 1.5 per cent.

In Australia, ‘Big Society’ ideas are generating interest and support amongst conservative think tanks and politicians. CPD’s report presents a comprehensive analysis of the UK’s ‘Big Society’ policies and programs and examines their potential impact if adopted and implemented in Australia. We hope the report contributes to an informed debate about the merits of ‘small government’ ideologies and policies that often receive less than critical media and political commentary.

Download: Big Society and Australia report (5MB .pdf) here.

View: Big Society and Australia ‘Prezi’ (online presentation) here.

Download: Big Society and Australia Questions and Answers here.

Download: Big Society and Australia media release here.

Join the discussion

Get beyond the spin and find out what the ‘Big Society’ is really about. Join a conversation you won’t find in the mainstream media by liking us on Facebook and following CPD and the #ozbigsociety thread on Twitter.

Read what we are reading on ’Big Society’

To keep our finger on the pulse of public sector research, policy and political debates, CPD’s researchers maintain a Delicious account  . It helps us access the latest online public sector articles and references. Read what we’re reading by checking out our tag cloud. Click on ‘Big Society’ to learn how UK policies are creating the “biggest shakeup of what the state provides in half a century”.

Initial reactions and media coverage

CPD’s Public Service research director Dr James Whelan presented the opening keynote at the Communities in Control conference in Melbourne on May 28th. The 1300 delegates represented community sector organisations from all states and territories. On the second day of the conference former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner presented the inaugural Social Justice Oration newly established in her name. Ms Kirner was introduced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In the oration, she referred to CPD’s research:

“As one of yesterday’s excellent speakers, Dr James Whelan, asked, do we really want to follow UK Prime Minister David Cameron in redefining the role of the public sector as subservient to the private sector and reliant on an under-resourced community sector? Let’s be clear: we can and we must afford social and economic justice in Australia.”

Our Public Service Research Program

The CPD Public Service Program aims to develop a robust knowledge base about the state of the public service: its funding and capacity; performance in delivering community services; and attitudes toward and expectations of the Australian Public Service. Click here to read more.



Find more ideas and publications on the Australian Public Service in one of our major research programs here.

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