Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Just how big is this big society?

Thanks, Mrs A, for putting me onto a great speech by author Philip Pullman to a meeting against library cuts in Oxfordshire. It's published on the False Economy blog. This is my favourite passage:
Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?

I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.

Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?

Especially since the council is hoping that the youth service, which by a strange coincidence is also going to lose 20 centres, will be staffed by – guess what – volunteers. Are these the same volunteers, or a different lot of volunteers?

This is the Big Society, you see. It must be big, to contain so many volunteers.


Mrs Angry said...

Yes, actually somone sent it to me yesterday after reading your blog piece about the American company.
Oxfordshire seems to be where it's all happening at the moment. I had missed the Pullman speech, and what a great piece it is. I hope our councillors will read it and take it to heart. If they have one.

baarnett said...

"When Barnet is a kettle, it
should be on his mettle,
And yet we're torn apart!

"Just because we're all presumin'
that it could be kind-a human,
If it only had heart."

Rog T said...

Big Society??? Big load of old Bollocks if you ask me. We already have a "big society" We have elections, we pay taxes and we look after the weaker members of society. Cameron wants to replace that model with one where the richest people have an option on their taxable contribution and the vulnerable rely on the goodwill of those people who give a shit. So in Camerons "big society" it is the bone idle, obnoxious rich who are the big gainers and the poor and desperate who are the losers (because there are always losers with Tory policy). That is why it's bollocks