The Government has been inundated with requests from public sector workers at risk of losing their jobs who want to take over council services and run them as a co-operative, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has disclosed.
Mr Maude, who is in charge of championing the Conservatives’ Big Society concept, said he believed small groups of town hall staff were the right people to break free from “overbearing top-down bureaucracy” by taking responsibility for service delivery themselves.
It would be absurd to pretend that local government, facing the certainty of huge spending cuts, could avoid redundancies, he admitted.
But the Government was working actively to help public sector staff find innovative ways of securing employment.
Ten co-operative projects are already running across the country, with Birmingham City Council one of a number of Conservative-led authorities investigating allowing groups of workers to bid to run services.
Mr Maude said the idea fitted in with the Big Society, which relies on more people volunteering to help others and getting involved with community improvement projects.
He told a Tory conference fringe meeting organised by the Demos pressure group that many public sector workers were frustrated because they could see a better way of doing things, yet were not allowed to implement changes.
Mr Maude said: “We are saying to them, take charge and go for a co-op and do things better.”
He promised to set up a social investment bank to provide finance for employee co-ops “where there is a good business model”.
Asked if he could be clearer about exactly how the Big Society would develop, Mr Maude admitted he could not.
He said: “It will not conform to any plan that anyone can draw up. It won’t be administratively tidy.
“Actually it will look quite chaotic, it won’t conform to any textbook idea of how society should be organised.
“It will be granular, hyper-local, bottom up. People just have to go with it.”
He continued: “There are a lot of misconceptions about the Big Society. Is it something revolutionary? The answer is no.
“I think people generally want to make life better for their fellow citizens and they feel better about themselves when they do.
“The idea of a strong cohesive society where people take responsibility for themselves and for others and get engaged with communities is an idea as old as the hills.
“We have got to the end of the age of the big state, big government has failed. It is unsustainable fiscally.
“We have a state that is too intrusive trying to do too much and has created too much dependency.
“In deprived parts of Britain there is far too little social capital. It has been eroded almost to nothing by the excessive activity of the state.
“But if you go to the most deprived estates you will find things happening, you will find people doing things together in ways that aren’t formally organised. What we have to do is support these people and to find leaders.
“There are people who don’t know they are community leaders, but with the right support and backing and a little bit of money they can start to do things differently.”