Letter to the Prime Minister – Big Society Against Big Cuts

In a letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron, Harry questions the capacity of communities across the country, particularly in Sheffield, to introduce Big Society inspired programmes whilst dealing with large cuts to local budgets.

Dear Mr Cameron,

My name is Harrison Carter, a Member of UK Youth Parliament who represents the young people of Sheffield.

I’m writing to express concern about the effect of cuts to the voluntary youth sector on its ability to facilitate Big Society lead initiatives. Initiatives that I believe could have a benefit to the city of Sheffield and the prospects of many young people living here.

The Big Society policy, in principle, receives both cross-party and public support. The ideal of giving decision making power to local people is one that is hard to disagree with. By offering true experts in communities the chance to make a difference, in an attempt to decentralise provision, the government recognises that local challenges require situation specific remedies. Although the end is the same, reducing crime, reducing obesity, getting more people into jobs and training, the means by which we are successful are dependent upon the calibre of local communities and people.

The policy from the outset has been understandably ambiguous. It is right that the initiative does not become a spoon feeding activity but is dynamic and wide ranging to reflect the disparity of need in areas across the country. This is why I and the UK Youth Parliament welcome locally trained neighbourhood groups and community organisers. They are specific to the area they live.

It is also encouraging that through the support of partner organisations these people are made aware of their role and through endowment building programmes are offered grants to give financial stability to these new groups. Will there be a consistent revenue stream for these newly formed remote groups, or will they receive training in writing funding applications?

Whilst the pot of money is still available from the grant then the groups will be stable. But when it goes, and their revenue stream seizes up there is a risk that the hard work they’re doing in the community will be reversed.

It is absolutely necessary to evaluate existing programmes and continue recruitment. However, I also believe an equal emphasis must be put onto the Alumni scheme. That way, existing young people, having already passed through the initial stages could begin to devise new projects themselves and identify areas of need and act to set up groups to resolve them. At a meeting at no10 Downing Street in August 2011, I outlined these thoughts. It is fundamental in my opinion, that whilst we must get people starting up, we must also get previous start-ups moving forward and progressing beyond the limits of their existing work.  

That’s why it’s important to link the Big Society schemes to work base training. This is for two reasons. The first is that Youth Unemployment is a real issue for many young people across the country. Some of whom now have dependents themselves for which they’re struggling day in, day out, to support. The world is plagued by youth unemployment, and in Davos last month at the World Economic Forum it was described as a disaster and a ticking time bomb. It is my belief that the government must be making links with other programmes it’s currently running to deal with this head on. We measure the success of a country on its ability to engage young people in employment. The second reason is that it incentivises people to get involved. Because they see the programme as having a credible end i.e increased prospect of employment.  

It would also be helpful to not only have young people involved in direct community activities but also in the democratic process. The Positive for Youth Strategy published by the Department for Education clearly outlines the benefits of such work, with reference to a case study of my campaign to Ban the Mosquito Device in Sheffield. By mobilising the passion of young people across the country, as the UK Youth Parliament and British Youth Council has been doing, you remove the threat of having to deal with a disillusioned, apathetic and lost generation in the future.

There has to be scope for introducing a network of best practise for the National Citizen Service, and other big society schemes. This cross-communication would squeeze out of each programme the best ways of working. In doing so will provide a framework for new projects. It would also benefit those partnership organisations in the process of considering whether they have the ability or resources to begin a project.

The suggestions I’ve made will at least maximise the minimum benefit that the big society policy will have on communities across the country.

I look forward to your reply,

Harrison Carter
Member of UK Youth Parliament for Sheffield

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About HarryCarter

I'm Harry Carter and I represent young people as a Member of the UK Youth Parliament. I'm a young social activist, and I'm working to create a fairer, more supportive and more involved society.
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