Not-so-big society

It seems that the concept of the Big Society is floundering; communities and voluntary organisations have not rushed forward to provide services to local people. Is that really a surprise to anyone who hasn't lived a privileged, Oxbridge-educated, elitist life? Just looking at the concept in financial terms it is no surprise.

Public bodies are having their funding squeezed by HM Treasury and services and facilities are closing or being reduced. Public bodies try to avoid this, partly because they want to provide as good a service as possible and partly to avoid being criticised by the government (such as Grant Shapps complaining that local councils are cutting care services but what option do councils have?) the suggestion that others will spontaneously provide these services is naive. If we were talking about closure of a factory producing private goods then the market would meet the demand by virtue of charging a price that suits seller and buyer. But we aren't. Economists have understood for centuries that markets fail to provide public goods.

Nevertheless there seems to be a hope by the government that some benevolent people will step in. Perhaps they would if there were public funding to support them but why spend their own time and money. Indeed, given the tax rises and level of job losses people have less money than they did a year ago. Perhaps the government hope that public servants that are made redundant by the cuts will use the time they have on their hands to do for free what they used to do for a salary. Now, that would be a level of public-spiritedness beyond any reasonable expectation. Someone like that really ought to be working in the public sector!