At the Midland Hotel, Bradford, today for Big Society: The Good,The Bad & The Unequal. This national conference is hosted by JUSTWest Yorkshire and is jointly sponsored by them, Runnymede Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
We're welcomed by Ratna Lachman, Chief Exec of JUST West Yorkshire and Maureen Grant from Joseph Rowntree charitable Trust, who set the tone for the rest of the day. The conference focuses on four main areas:
- What does "fairness" mean in the context of Big Society?
- Can Big Society deliver racial justice?
- Does Big Society privilege the South over the North?
- Is Big Society a cover for big cuts?
This event also marks the publication of a new book (with the same title as the conference), to help inform discourse regarding Big Society, to interrogate Big Society agenda, particularly as it affects VCS organisations, practitioners and service users. The book provides systematic, intelligent critique, provides an alternate narrative rather than one of grudging acquiescence and makes no bones about the necessity of speaking truth to power.
There are three plenary presentations (all of which you can access, faithful reader, by clicking on the title below):
- Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation): Fairness and Equality in the Big Society
- Ed Cox (Institute of Public Policy Research): Two Geographies Divided by One Big Society
- Rob Berkeley (Runnymede Trust): The Colour of Big Society
After lunch, we also see a young people's video presentation on Big Society.
This is a very different affair from the conference I attended in London a month ago (see blog, Monday 30 January). That one was led by organisations who've obtained contracts and funding to deliver Big Society initiatives and projects, with speakers addressing many in the audience from organisations threatened by the Coalition's austerity regime - as well as by the plain and simple fact that those making decisions about development of the Voluntary and Community Sector just don't "get it". There was an undercurrent of anger and resentment at that event. It would be true to say that here, there's no undercurrent. Quite the opposite: it's more of a rallying cry. From a straw poll, I reckon I'm the only one who attended both conferences - and take it from me, there's quite a difference between the two!