Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Welcome The Big Society Bank Of United Kingdom... But At What Peril?

Its 22 months since the Coalition government in the UK, the first of its type since the war, took over the reins of government. A bumpy ride riddled with so many downturns - a summed name of Ups & Downs - and so far, it doesnt seem to be getting anywhere near better.

Nevertheless, the whittling Big Society Bank is finally up and running today. One can only imagine what the Prime Minister went through behind the scene making his friends in the banks and city to save [his] face on this deal. Of course, Mr. Cameron hinted on that at the launch of the project at London Stock Exchange earlier today saying that he can take credit for making the city people buy into it... although the Chancellor did more of the work [number crunching]. Why not if not?

However, for all the praises and accolades the Prime Minister showered on his amazing pet project, he failed - and surely by deliberate intention - to hint that this type of funding for charity work is set to change the way the voluntary sector in this country works, albeit in a very bad way...

Perhaps, what is not yet realized by the many ordinary people in the country is that the Big Society bank, if any good, is not for the ordinary simple charity; but for the social enterprise set ups. There is quite a huge difference between charity/voluntary services and social enterprises. For those who doesnt know, I fear this is the first and core disjuncture.

Also, what is not yet clearly spelt out, and which the Prime Minister did not hint at in his speech, is that for an organization to acquire capital from the Big Society Bank, it has to show the profitability - or in simpler and modest term, the Return on Investment (ROI)- of its services. Thus, for the majority of charity scattered across the United Kingdom doing amazing work supporting their various physical or virtual geographical stakeholders, the Big Society is not for them.Where they wish to, these charities will start to charge for services. Cheap as it may be, it is not what the majority of people who use their services can afford.

Take for instance, Crisis for Homeless people, a charity that has been providing good home-made christmas food for the past 40 years for people who are homeless, would have to charge these homeless people for the food to show an ROI on the capital used to provide this food. However, Crisis has been doing this and serving thousands of these people dishing out over 16k meals over the Christmas period with the help of mostly free gifts. These gifts ranges from free work by volunteers of all ages, to donations of turkey, eggs, spaces, etc, by people and organizations out of good will. Crisis has to beg for everything and also needs some cash for miscallenous expenses through the period. Running five centres in London alone, it does beg hard to get all of these and the needed cash.

To be funded/supported by the Big Society Bank, using money from dormant accounts which by law is State money, Crisis would have to prove how it hope to recoup that money. The simplest answer would be, 'charge for the service'. But to who? To some homeless people most of whom we know have no family contact, aren't eating well and have no penny to their name. Cheap as it may be, many of those homeless people cannot afford to pay.

Another example is the Foundation for Public Service Interpreting, a very small charity that has provided mostly free training for public services emergency outfits on interpretation and help in active interpretation, would also be pushed into oblivion because it cannot survive trying to charge for a service it has always provided free based on the goodwill of a few people, for the saving of lives.

The danger is that while this hidden fact stay out of sight, the Coalition government is going to plough on and hamper government funding for Charities under the premise that the Big Society Bank will 'plug the gap'; and by the time this is realized, that cut has been implemented... We will see many such charities gradually disappear and support work and services will dissipate.

So the Big Question for the Big Society project is; is this the end of goodwill charity services as we know them in the UK all these hundreds of years? A legacy that has been invaluable, exported around the world by the British especially through the Church Missionary Society is now subtly threatened and we are unaware but either celebrating it or ignoring it. But when it bites, we will do neither.

Time shall tell.

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