presentation - The Big Society, Localism & Housing Policy

The Big Society, Localism and
Austerity: challenges and dilemmas
for theory and practice
Dr Kim McKee, Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews
ESRC Seminar Series: The Big Society, Localism & Housing Policy
Sheffield, 7-8 March 2013
 Context
 Key challenges:
History: anything new in these ideas?
Geography & new political spaces
The local: a new site of empowerment?
Exacerbating place-based inequalities?
Challenges for the VCS
Reconfiguration of British Welfare State?
 Conclusions
Policy & Political Context
 Popularized following formation UK coalition gvt 2010
 Nebulous concept; appeals to left & right of spectrum
 BS argues solutions to social ills lie within civil society
at local, community scale; not with ‘big government’
 Revival of ‘the local’ & policy interest in places/communities
 Local decision-making, asset-ownership, mobilization VCS etc
 Civil society as a ‘resource’ for the state in austere times
“We believe that a strong society will
solve our problems more effectively than big
government has or ever will, we want the
state to act as an instrument for helping to
create a strong society. Our alternative to
big government is the big society […] We need
to use the state to remake society”
(Cameron 2009: no page number)
 Influenced by work of social commentator Phillip Blond
(Respublica Think Tank)
 Context of broader welfare narratives
 Critical of British welfare state; stresses greater role for VCS,
esp traditions co-operation & mutualism
 Informed housing policy across the UK (esp Eng):
 Community Land Trusts
 Community Self-Build Housing
 Resurgent interest in Co-operative & Mutual Housing
 Promotion of community ownership assets & land
 English Localism Act 2011 (planning & social housing)
 HAs as community-anchors/place-shapers (Respublica 2012;
McKee 2012)
1.History: anything new in these ideas?
 Ideological emphasis on community & presumed
benefits devolving power downwards not new
 Central to modernizing agenda of previous New Labour
administration (1997>2010, esp Blair gvt)
 Third Way & Communitarianism
 Policies such as New Deal for Communities
 Localism also popular under Conservative Gvt 1980s-90s
 New Public Management & Tenant’s Charter
 Reducing power of local authorities
 Continuities in policy discourse reflect the “mongrel
phenomenon” that is neoliberalism (Peck et al 2009)
 Discontinuities as well as continuities; important
differences between current & previous gvts
 New Labour: co-governance & partnership working to
modernize welfare state
 Big Society: evokes VCS to attack big gvt, particularly the
welfare state
 Very different funding climates – VCS now enjoys less state
funding; knock on effects for sustainability & survival
 Need to see BS in its historical & spatial context
2.Geography & New Policy Spaces
 Devolution (1999) ushered in ‘new policy spaces’
(Alcock 2002)
 Most influential in English policy context; although
promotion of ‘community’ common thread
 Rich & diverse VCS in Scotland, esp in housing, but more
scepticism towards the ‘Big Society’ (McKee 2012):
 Community Empowerment & Renewal Bill 2012
 Christie Commission 2011
 Community Ownership of social housing has long legacy
 Emphasis on community-anchor organisations in regeneration
 Political geography important impact on way in which
policy discourses constructed & mobilized
 Challenges of delivering public services in ‘hard times’
pertinent across the UK
 In England housing reforms become entangled in
debates about welfare dependency (e.g. end to
traditional social housing as we know it)
 Localism more positive potential elsewhere in the UK?
3.The Local: a new site of empowerment?
 Revival of ‘the local’: manifest in a reinvigorated policy
& political interest in localities, communities & places
 Extent to which these agendas will ‘empower’ local
people remains contested
 Concern devolving ‘responsibility’ as well as ‘autonomy’
 Civil society a ‘resource’ for the state (Morison 2000)
 Means to reconstruct post-war welfare settlement
 VCS further entangled in webs of governance
 As Cruikshank (1999) argues strategies of empowerment
are still technologies of governance
 Constitute & mobilize the governable –subject’s capacity to act
 Transform political subjectivity into an instrument of gvt
 Perspective on power that presupposes freedom (Foucault –
power is productive)
 Should not assume that all communities necessarily
want to take control
 May not be a demand for community ownership for example,
where already receiving good service
 Local and central government have statutory responsibilities
4. Exacerbating Place-Based Inequalities?
 Localism may exacerbate social-spatial inequalities:
 Communities do not speak with one voice
 Nor are they all equally resourced nor empowered; nor
operating at the same scale
 Some communities may be more able than others to
articulate their needs and command resources:
 Issues such as skills, education, capacity, experience are all
relevant here
 May disadvantage already low-income/deprived
 See also work of Hastings & Matthews on middle-class activism
5. Challenges for the VCS
 Concern about adopting someone else’s term (Big
Society); but support core principles
 Blurring boundaries between third and public sector;
expected to fill the gap as the state retrenches
 VCS also facing its own funding challenges; need
resourcing if to play a bigger role
 Scale of interventions questioned by some: community v
national level
 Rescaling of policy interventions lead to ‘localization’ of
policy failure (Macmillan & Townsend 2006)
6. Reconfiguration of British Welfare State?
 Re-thinking of desired relationship between the state &
its citizens
 Promotion of VCS to achieve more pluralistic model of
welfare provision (the ‘voluntary turn’)
 New ‘mentality of rule’ – encourages place-based
communities to take responsibility for own welfare
 Indicative of evolving pol-eco geographies of
neoliberalism (Brenner & Theodore 2002)
 Danger of returning to Victorian style patchy provision
Involves “specific constructions of
space, scale and temporality, which
have important consequences for the
shape and structure of the emerging
welfare state”
(Macmillan and Townsend 2006: 29)
 Big Society/localism have been influential in shaping
the political & policy landscape across UK since 2010
 Need a critical reading of these agendas:
 Mobilization of community now new (history matters)
 Policy discourses have differential impact in different
places in different ways (geography important)
 Localism is no guarantee of community empowerment
 Devolution may exacerbate place-based inequalities
 Pose threats as well as opportunities for the VCS
 Important consider broader context welfare reform
 These key themes will be unpacked in more detail by
other speakers/contributors
 1st of 3 ESRC funded seminars: Big Society, Localism &
Housing Policy (Belfast Oct 2013, St A March 2014)
 Our intent is to foster critical discussion & analysis;
encourage cross-sector debate; build new network of
researchers interested in this field
 Big Society mixed bag for both theory & practice
 Important recognise weaknesses and challenges of these
agendas, as well as strengths and opportunities
 Difficult to critique aspirations for local control, ownership
& decision making, but effects uneven
 Alcock (2002)
 Brenner N and Theodore N (2002) “Preface: from the ‘new localism’
to the spaces of neoliberalism” Antipode 34(3): 349-379
 Cameron D(2009) “The Big Society: Hugo Young Lecture, 9th Nov
2009” (online)
 Cruikshank B(1999) “The Will to Empower: democratic citizens and
other subjects” (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press)
 McKee K(2012) “Housing Associations and the Big Society: lessons
from Scotland’s community housing sector”. St Andrews: University
of St Andrews
 Morison J(2000) “The Government-Voluntary Sector Compacts:
governance, governmentality and civil society”, Journal of Law &
Society 27(1): 98-132
 Peck J et al (2009) “Postneoliberalism and its Malcontents” Antipode
41(1): 94-116.
 Respublica (2012) “Acting on Localism: the role of housing
associations in driving a community agenda” (Online)