Leading Birmingham Tory Alan Rudge has issued a clarion call in support of the Big Society, demanding that communities be set free from government diktats and helped to take more responsibility for their own lives.
Coun Rudge, cabinet member for equalities and human resources since 2004, argued that fairness and opportunity for all could only be achieved if people were given more power and responsibility against a strong network of voluntary and social enterprises backed by entrepreneurial small businesses.
In a 62-page pamphlet called Civic Enterprise in Birmingham, he called for an end to overweaning bureaucratic control.
He said the city council’s future relied on “getting to really know its customers” and delivering services based on what citizens really wanted rather than policies dreamt up by civil servants.
He added that the future prosperity of Birmingham relied on ending the “dull, centralised, rule-bound way that had been demonstrably ineffective” and by drawing a line under a society in which most people routinely looked to the Government to solve their problems.
The pamphlet said: “The approach I am describing requires much less management, fewer strategies, business plans and action plans, fewer targets, performance measures and frameworks, less reporting, auditing and evaluating.
“It needs fewer instrumentalist managers, fewer strategists, fewer photocopiers, less office space, less technology, less coffee.”
The booklet may be seen by some as a thinly-disguised attempt by Coun Rudge to position himself as a standard bearer for the One Nation wing of the Tory party.
He quoted Disraeli with admiration, as well as David Willetts, one of the architects of the Big Society approach. Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) is deputy leader of the council’s executive Conservative group.
He is seen by some as favourite to take charge of the whole group if the party’s coalition with the Liberal Democrats collapses next year resulting in the resignation of council leader Mike Whitby.
Regarded as a right winger by Labour and even many councillors in his own party, Coun Rudge appeared to be using the pamphlet to announce his true Liberal-Conservative beliefs.
In the pamphlet he argued that most people did not want the “time consuming” job of running decentralised council services.
What they did want, he said, was to be listened to and to play a role in formulating community-based policy.
He said: “Generally speaking, people want the opportunity and responsibility to make moral judgments and to order their lives as they choose freely to do.
“It is this freedom that gives people dignity, that allows diverse talents to flourish, that inspires us to use the creativity with which we have been endowed, to exercise our sense of compassion and of duty.”
The document was strong on family values, stating that if babies did not receive personal one-to-one care, their behaviour suffered later.
Poor family relationships in childhood had negative economic and social consequences in adult life including anti-social behaviour, drug use and teenage pregnancy, he claimed.
Coun Rudge added: “I believe at the heart of the Big Society are individuals in communities. Communities have a considerable amount of social capital and community intelligence and have a closer understanding of the needs of individuals.
“Invariably, they use these assets to provide support to community members in their hour of need.
“If the Big Society is to succeed, we need to draw on this wealth and enable those areas that already have the capacity and willingness to take on responsibility to deliver services to meet their needs by giving them support to develop their technical skills and expertise.
“I look towards the voluntary and not for profit sector to help us rekindle the spark in individuals and communities that fires the building of strong relationships irrespective of race, age, faith and non-faith, disability, gender or sexual orientation to build a bridge between the needs of individuals in those communities and the capacity of the council to improve their lives.”
The public sector must see itself as the enabler of innovation and enterprise, not the “long term funder of pre-defined interventions”, he added.
He urged Birmingham’s business community to help develop the Big Society with a “heady mix of enterprise, philosophy, politics and technology”, although he admitted that “these days there are fewer large businesses with a cadre of patrician leaders capable of taking on the wider perspective”.
However, challenging himself to set out exactly what the Big Society should look like, Coun Rudge appeared to have no more idea than the Government, admitting: “I am not going to tell you.
“Not for reasons of protectionism, but because I simply don’t know. I can’t know. There is not a single model that will work everywhere.”