17th May 2011, 09:30
Contributing to the Big Society may be a step too far for many people, who say they just don't have the time for voluntary work, according to new research by public sector insurer Zurich Municipal.
Nearly two thirds (62%) of people said they would be unlikely to volunteer to help community organisations deliver local services that in the past may have been provided by their local council – and almost half (47%) think that voluntary or charitable organisations running public services would be a bad thing.
While surveys have shown that people may support the idea of the Big Society in principle, our survey shows that when it comes to actually participating it's a different story – around one in four (24%) aren't even interested in how local council services work, as long as they're doing their job.
The main reasons for this lack of support are work commitments and having other things to do with their spare time – showing that there is still a lot to be done to persuade people of the benefits of getting involved.
Andrew Jepp, director of public services at Zurich Municipal, said:
"Our research suggests that in the drive for a Big Society, there is more to be done to foster an environment of "people power" and re-engage communities.
"For public involvement to become a reality, people will need to be shown both how they could play their part, and indeed just how positive an experience it could be. Now is the time for public service providers to pull together and help educate people on the detail."
Another challenge to the Big Society aspiration of involving people in setting priorities for how local government time and money is spent is that the public has widely varying views on those priorities. For example, Zurich Municipal’s research shows that when it comes to policing, opinion is split on what should be the top priorities:
· Dealing with 999 calls (39%)
· Tackling major crime (35%)
· Managing anti-social behaviour (33%)
· Targeting drug dealing (33%)
"This highlights the challenges of involving the public in priority-setting, as they're understandably no clearer than the providers themselves on how or where to make cuts," said Jepp.
"Any push towards increased involvement is going to need support and education - without this, the more obviously 'popular' or visible services may be prioritised over those equally valuable but less known ones. This could prove a false economy, leading to a gap in delivery that could be difficult to plug in the future."