One of the architects of the Conservatives’ Big Society project has praised the communities of Birmingham for proving that the concept of community engagement works.
Phillip Blond, of the think tank ResPublica, is widely known as the Red Tory, a supporter of localism, social enterprise and more traditional Conservative values.
And he has teamed up with Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby at the Tory party conference this week to produce Birmingham’s own prospectus for the Big Society.
He said: “British civil society is something to be proud of. The City of Birmingham encapsulates this tradition. I recently had the pleasure of witnessing this first hand, visiting centres of civic activism and social renewal across the city.
"The joyful enthusiasm I experienced was positively overwhelming and indeed deeply encouraging for a supporter of the Big Society. The wealth of social capital has already made its mark in Birmingham, accomplishing much for residents and local neighbourhoods.”
Mr Blond highlights the work at the Hutton Hall Community Centre in Alum Rock, St George’s Community Hub in Newtown and other areas of strong community activism.
He stresses that Big Society is not a ‘panacea for cuts’ but a means for the state to re-shape public services and harvest a wealth of untapped social capital within communities.
Mr Blond says that while Birmingham is taking a lead on this agenda there is still much more to be done.
Proposals put forward in the new prospectus include a Civic Pride awards scheme, more neighbourhood budgeting and planning, and to develop the timebank model of volunteering, where people trade hours of effort.
City leader Mike Whitby said: “We believe that Birmingham is the birthplace of the original Big Society, a philosophy which resonates throughout our city’s history and culture.
“In fact it’s in our blood: we know the Big Society is about much more than re-invigorating social and community relationships. As Chamberlain showed it’s also about creating a more dynamic and enterprising economy.”