February 2011 Monthly Archives

Blastbeat – Northwood School

February 28, 2011


Nick introduces a new initiative called ‘Blastbeat’ to schools and businesses across the constituency.

Blastbeat is a social entrepreneurial scheme run as a business and music competition in schools.

Students at Northwood School are currently involved in the programme and Nick acts as business mentor to their company ‘No Limits’.

For more information visit www.blastbeat.org or watch this clip of Nick introducing the programme at the Compass Theatre in Ickenham:

Big Society Debate

February 28, 2011

Nick Hurd responds to a backbench debate on the Big Society and increased community engagement.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): We have heard 39 speeches-I did count them-which were often lofty, sometimes earthy and always interesting; I thank the Backbench Business Committee and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke). In the short time available, I wish to make three quick points in response to an excellent debate.

First, I wish to express a personal conviction. I really believe that we have barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved in this country if we strike a more effective and balanced partnership between government, business and civil society, including active citizens in our communities who want to get more involved. That is what we are working towards, because we need a new approach to tackle the entrenched social challenges that we face. As many speakers have said, relying on big government and “Whitehall knows best” just has not worked well enough, and it must be time to make better use of the talents and resources of this country. Of course this will involve a big culture change and it will not happen overnight, which brings me to my second point.

The new approach requires strong leadership from government, and not a traditional top-down programme; to make this work we have to redistribute power in a bold and genuine way, to allow communities to take more control and to recast government so that it supports community action, rather than stifles it. That is now happening and it is being built on three core strands, the first of which is the transfer of real power to communities.

First, power is being transferred in the form of information. Whether we are talking about crime maps, departmental business plans or detailed breakdowns of local authority spending, our constituents already have more information than ever before on what is being done in their name. With that comes the power to act and challenge, and the Localism Bill offers people new rights and opportunities to take more control, not least in the planning process. That is being supported by a new attitude from government which asks, “How can we help?”, rather than saying, “You can’t do that.” That is why it was right to review the health and safety regulations and the vetting and barring regime. It was encouraging to see the Department for Communities and Local Government immediately set up a new bureaucracy-busting service and challenge communities to tell it what is getting in the way, and 140 communities have already engaged in that process.

The second strand of Government action is fundamental public service reform. Yes, we do believe that we can deliver better public services by opening up the market to competition and new providers, including social enterprises, mutuals and the voluntary sector. We do believe in giving communities and front-line professionals much greater freedom to meet local need. We also want to get the public more involved in shaping the services they use, whether that be through personal budgets or greater involvement in how resources are allocated and services are commissioned. We will soon be publishing a White Paper on public service reform, which will set out our plans in more detail. All I will say for now is that when one visits social enterprises such as Zest in Sheffield, which is delivering public services in a fantastically fresh way, the two senior nurses who have set up their own social enterprise in Leicester or a group of public agencies in Calderdale working together to shape a new service on debt advice, one has a strong sense of how much better things could be if we gave people at the sharp end much greater freedom and responsibility.

The third strand of action is about encouraging more social action in our communities. Of course we are not inventing anything new: this is about building on the fantastic work done in constituencies across the country by dedicated people who know the value of giving time and/or money to help others. We want to encourage a step change in attitudes to giving both time and money. Our recent Green Paper set out how government can help in traditional and non-traditional ways, such as by setting up new match funding schemes to encourage local endowments and private sector support for volunteering projects or by encouraging civil servants to get more involved in community service, thereby setting an example to other employers. The national citizen service has enormous potential to connect our teenagers with their power to make a contribution to the community. Our Communities First programme will give more deprived neighbourhoods access to a new grant programme that will help them to implement their own plans, supported by community organisers whose job will be to build local networks and leadership, encouraging people to come together and take action.

Albert Owen: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hurd: I am afraid that I have no time for interventions if I am to give the last Back Bencher the chance to wind up the debate.

We are going further than the three strands I have discussed. The hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) talked about business having a bigger role. On 2 December, the Prime Minister made an important speech to business, setting out a new deal, Every Business Commits, challenging business to step up and play a bigger part in helping to tackle the social challenges of the day. Since then, the biggest banks have pledged £200 million to help to capitalise the big society bank, and businesses in the community are actively developing, in response to that speech, a network of business connectors-individuals who can make connections between local businesses and local organisations that need support.

That brings me to the role of the voluntary and community sector and the need to support it through what is, as many hon. Members have pointed out, an extremely difficult and challenging time. We should not forget that the majority of the voluntary sector does its valuable work with no help from the taxpayer at all, but many of our constituents will be surprised to learn that the sector receives almost £13 billion in public money, before the benefits of gift aid are counted. Faced with the monstrous legacy of a deficit that costs us £120 million a day in interest alone, we have always been clear that the sector cannot be immune from the need to find savings on that scale.

I know from my everyday contact and conversations with the sector that it is most anxious about cuts at the local level. We cannot control local authorities, but we have given a very strong steer that we do not expect them to cut the sector disproportionately. Many local authorities, such as Reading and Wiltshire, have confirmed
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that they will be maintaining or even increasing their investment. However, many have taken a different course. With our new transparency requirements, local communities will be able to see how their council has responded to the tough choices before it and to make their own judgments.

We are not laissez-faire about this issue. We see the voluntary and community sector as a key partner in this new partnership and we are actively trying to help it manage a very difficult transition by making it easier to run a social enterprise or voluntary sector organisation. Lord Hodgson will soon report to me with ideas on how to cut red tape for small charities, and we will continue to invest in the infrastructure that exists to support front-line organisation, trying to make it more effective. We have set aside £100 million as a transition fund to give a lifeline to the organisations that are most vulnerable to cuts. We are actively considering what we can do to encourage giving and a White Paper will be published after the Budget.

We are in the process of setting up the big society bank with £200 million of capital from the private sector and an expected £400 million from dormant bank accounts. Our recently published social investment strategy document sets out the role we see for it in growing the social investment market, thereby making it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. We want to make it easier for charities and social enterprises to work with government and we will soon publish our response to a consultation on the changes to the commissioning process needed to level the playing field and reduce the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy in the system.

There is no getting away from the short-term pain that a number of charities and social enterprises are feeling, but we want to work with them and help them to take advantage of the serious long-term opportunities that the big society agenda offers. They include the chance to deliver more public services, the chance to mobilise people and win arguments at the local level about what priorities should be and the chance to benefit from the time and money that we hope people will give more of in future. The Government are doing a huge amount to create the right conditions for this rebalancing of power and responsibility.

My final point is that this is not a Government programme, however important our lead is. It depends on a grass-roots local response from organisations and individuals who see a chance to do things in a better way. It is too early to say how high or far the bird that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) described will fly. It will take time, but we believe that we are going with the grain of what people want-more open, efficient government, better connected communities with people looking out for each other, more respect for the voice of the citizen, giving people real power to make a difference to the things that they care about, and a greater sense of togetherness at a tremendously challenging time for the country.

Whether we call it big society or stronger society, there ought to be more common ground on the need for a new approach, one based on a wholly positive vision of a better partnership between all elements of society, and a genuine belief in what people can achieve if they are trusted and given the power to make a difference to the things that they care about.

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Mount Vernon Cancer Centre: Cyberknife

February 25, 2011


Nick visiting the new state of the art ‘Cyberknife’ at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre.