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Faith and volunteering GREG CLARK

engaged in public and voluntary service. He spoke consistently of the need for the whole of society to work for the common good. Those accompanying him reminded government ministers and officials of the global contribu- tion to education, health care and social welfare made by Catholic institutions. Yet there is another Christian principle used in politics that is often forgotten, and wrongly separated from social justice, namely “sub- sidiarity”. The United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference once defined it as suggesting that “government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacities of indi- viduals or private groups acting independently. Government should not replace or destroy small communities, or individual initiative”. Coming originally from the north-east of England, I am acutely aware of its importance. For too long, too many areas far away from central government have been designated by some well-meaning person in Whitehall as “deprived” and then sent “initiatives” as divorced from local reality as if they were descending from outer space. I now represent a constituency in Kent and too often have encountered a reverse stereotyping: the one that says there is no social need in the south. My responsibility as a minister is to put “sub-

sidiarity” into practice; to drive a radical redistribution of power, resources and informa- tion from the centre to local government and beyond. Neighbourhoods and individuals should be able to define their own identities and futures. They should never have their capacities stripped from them by an overweaning state. Entering government, I have been struck by how much of its effort has been ordered

25 SEPTEMBER 2010 £2.50 THE

Be small to be big W

hen Pope Benedict visited Britain, he met people of all faith communities, those caring for the elderly and those

David Cameron pictured at the volunteer-run Oasis Centre, south London during the election campaign. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville

not towards unlocking such capacities but instead upward and inward to provide advice to ministers. Under the previous Labour administration, this “upward” direction — combined with an idealistic, but unquestion- ing, belief in the power of the state — generated an avalanche of centralised policy guidance, inspection and regulations. Many local insti- tutions felt their ethos was being questioned or invaded as the price for government funding. Faith groups, especially Christians and Muslims, often felt under pressure to conform to state-sanctioned values. It is no wonder that, on his visit to Britain, the Pope argued that there must be more space for reasoned conversation and that voluntary organisations should be given the freedom to get on with the work for which they were founded. This is an issue in the public sector too. We all know teachers and nurses who complain about so much paperwork that they have no time left to engage in the vocation they love. In fact, so many central targets were imposed

Ministers at the Conservative Party Conference opening this weekend will be further fleshing out their vision of the Big Society. Here, one of them explains that a key Christian principle lies behind the drive to devolve major decisions downwards to local communities

from on high that many at the coal- face have become confused as to which way to turn. Local councillors tell me they became more con- cerned about the audits they had to file than about their own electors. My conviction is that we should turn government upside down to focus downwards and outwards. In this way, we can remove the plethora of competing targets, forms and other burdens that have held back so many Churches, teachers and volunteers across our country. Imagine, for example, only having to apply for a Criminal Record Bureau check once instead of every time you volunteer for a different organisation. I want more “take

action citizens” than “tick box citizens”. To begin this process in my department,

we have created “barrier busting” teams aimed at driving power down to the lowest possible level. As trailblazers of the project, “vanguard” communities from Cumbria to Surrey are tri- alling new approaches to civic innovation. For instance, in one community they believe they can build a much needed local path for a third of the price quoted to the county coun- cil. They propose to take on the work and share the saving with the council. This would unlock funds to help sustain a community centre, while also releasing resources to county hall to spend on books or social care. Local initiative can unlock similar saving across the country. With subsidiarity, everybody wins. The Big Society is not only a vision for the charitable and voluntary sector. It is under- pinned by radical decentralisation, by new uses of social finance and by a commitment to transparency that lets everyone take part. Already, for example, we have required local

TABLET Don’t miss out on the souvenir of a lifetime

HEART SPOKE UNTO HEART Full reports and comprehensive analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain

The Tablet’s 56-page special edition celebrating Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Britain is still available. To place an order or for more details, contact Sarah Blackburn at The Tablet, 1 King Street Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0GY. Tel: 020 8748 8484. Email: A single copy costs just £3.22, inc U.K. p&p. Cheques payable to The Tablet.

10 | THE TABLET | 2 October 2010

Special 56-page souvenir edition

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