By Paul Binks
The Launch of Barnet’s Big Society Innovation Bank .
‘Barnet will be one of the fastest growing areas in London over the coming years. With reductions in public spending to tackle the deficit mean that times will be tough for the next few years, for both those who depend on good public services and those who provide them.’ Councillor Robert Rams.
The Barnet Big Society Innovation Bank has been launched so that we in Barnet get the biggest bang for our buck. This works by ensuring that the public are primarily involved in the decision-making process of where our money is spent.
From the revenue budget allocated to the Borough of Barnet, the council has set aside £600K to be invested in community-minded projects proposed and delivered by the local populace over the next 3 years.
As the Government’s Big Society agenda gains momentum, local citizens and communities will have more opportunities to take the reins in addressing local issues. Cynics would say that this is just another example of how the Government are transferring costs to the voluntary sector and alleviating themselves of responsibility should anything go wrong. The Government argue that at a time of financial constraint in the public sector, ‘business as usual’ is not an option. Nationwide polls show that the people largely accept this sentiment and which is why we are seeing a great shift in the landscape of public services.
The Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner patroned the scheme with an appearance and furthered the Big Society notion stating “too much power has been taken away from local Government and centralised. The transference of power back to the community is a big weapon every MP knows about.” He continued to eulogise the principles of the Big Society before changing focus to the people within the room, “Seize the opportunity in the challenge to test the notion that local communities know best.” This statement seemed to underpin the scheme’s true value to us in Barnet. For time immemorial many have exalted their wisdom in criticising the ‘powers that be’ in the administration of taxes with countless schemes suggested as superior models to those implemented. Not because of intellectual superiority but of local knowledge.
Well this is our opportunity to prove this, one never given to our forefathers and like our recent vote on the Alternative Vote, one which may never see again for generations if at all.
The Interim Leader of the Council, Councillor Andrew Harper stated that the introduction of the bank was part of the ongoing realignment in the relationships between the Council and the people and Not-for-profit organisations and charities. He stated ‘the council is not the single depository of wisdom in the borough’ which requires no convincing on my part. He continued by saying ‘you are better at judging the effectiveness of grants and so it is your ideas not ours which will drive the scheme, ideas which will be properly supported by the Council and turned into practical solutions.’ In a similar vein to Nick Herd he challenged the audience by saying “go on, surprise me”.
Ultimately the new scheme is to galvanise creativity from all sectors of the borough so that local people can innovate and find new solutions for old problems. Ideas which have previously been overlooked are very much on the table should we have the aptitude and the conviction to push them forward.
To summarise how the scheme will work a key initiative outlined in the Big Society Innovation Bank Prospectus is SUSTAINABILITY. ‘We are using grants to kick-start community-led activities that can sustain themselves through new income streams such as charges to clients, trading income and corporate giving, as well as public sector and charitable income.’
The first theme is for new projects that strengthen the bonds within the community or reduce the need for public sector support or intervention.
The second theme is to enable groups or individuals to seize control of existing projects that currently rely on public sector support and run them in such a way they will no longer rely on that support.
The funds are allocated in the form of grants which are available to any individual or group. Unconstituted groups are eligible for grants from £500-£5K and constituted groups are eligible for grants ranging from £500-£50K. A project or scheme must be submitted to the council to be assessed and if successful the funds will appear in a one-off payment devoid of any conditions or external arrangements with the council. If a scheme fails in the application process it can be resubmitted to a later round of assessment.
“Have you ever got together with someone to make Barnet a better place?” Councillor Andrew Harper. If you have or haven’t but would like to, the opportunity is there for anyone to put forward the suggestions they believe will make this a stronger and more cohesive community.
For more information – http://www.barnet.gov.uk/highlights/highlights-big-society-innovation.htm