The Chamberlain Lectures

The Chamberlain Lectures

Questions in search of answers

Lecture 1: Oliver Letwin, Shadow Chancellor

  • Why is Civil Renewal, which is the realm of the community/voluntary sector, normally called the ‘Third Sector’ after both the Public and Private Sectors? Shouldn’t it be called the ‘first sector’, because all else is based and built on it?
  • Now that we understand the vital role the third, or is it the first, sector can play politicians will beat a path to its door and try to blend its needs in with theirs. But, shouldn’t this be the other way around? Shouldn’t the public sector world of the politician be bent to suit the needs of ordinary people in the first sector?
  • Has the state, Central and Local Government and the public sector, tried to do too much and intruded into the life of the communal sector? Shouldn’t it withdraw and enable the communal sector to undertake the responsibility for doing more for itself?
  • This will entail taking risks, being bold and maybe making mistakes as well as progress. Yet, the public sector is ‘risk averse’. How can it be helped to be bolder, to take risks and accept mistakes in order to undertake real change and make lasting progress?

Lecture 2: Naseem Akhtar, Active Citizen

  • Naseem said that people like her were ‘the first sector’, but they are under-resourced, unconfident and unrecognised. Three questions followed:
  • How can they be identified and supported?
  • How can the public sector enable them to flourish?
  • Is the public sector prepared to enter into productive partnerships with active citizens?
  • So far, HMG initiatives have been costly and caused neighbourhood to compete against neighbourhood. In future, how can initiatives help neighbourhoods to cooperate and support each other?
  • Just how much should ordinary people be expected to do to care for each other in the home and neighbourhood? Further, what services, if any, should they be expected to deliver or manage?

 Lecture 3: Lin Homer, Birmingham Council’s Chief Executive

  • Too many residents grumble that the services they receive are not up to the job. But, if residents only grumble and don’t help themselves, even the best statutory services will fail. So, local government will only thrive if residents act responsibly and, like Naseem’s Active Citizens, do more to help themselves and create the context in which service deliverers can thrive.
  • If residents are to shoulder more responsibility and do more locally, what is the role of participatory democracy and how does it interface and connect with representative democracy?
  • What are the roles of the local leader, Active Citizen and the Councillor and how can they support and not be suspicious of each other?
  • Can we reduce the gap between the voter and politicians and get more people to feel they are part if the system so it makes sense for them to vote in increasing numbers?

Lecture 4: Paul Scott-Lee, the Chief Constable of the West Midlands

  • Why do we assume that the police will solve crime, deter it and make people feel safe? If we do make this assumption, the police will fail and people will not have confidence in them.
  • We can only reduce crime and make people feel safer if ordinary citizens play an active part in the process and act as their own policemen.
  • So, instead of people leaving the solution of crime to the police, shouldn’t they join with the police and form an ‘extended neighbourhood police network?’
  • The question becomes, just how much responsibility should the Active Citizen shoulder, just how much should they do and what should be the relationship between the local police officer and the resident?

Lecture 5: David Willetts, Conservative Spokesman for the Welfare State

  • It seems that in recent decades, the state has come to try to do too much for people and has prevented people from doing things for themselves and for each other. In a sense, the public sector has nationalised the communal one and contributed to its decline. This has given the public sector an impossibly large task and caused Civil Society to atrophy and become weak.
  • So, it is now important for the State to withdraw from Civil Society and enable people to play a fuller part in caring for each other. This does not entail the ‘privatisation’ of communal life, as some Conservatives have argued, so much as its ‘mutualisation’. Just how much is there that is held in common between the main political parties?
  • If the public sector is the domain of Representative Democracy, what is its definition, what should it do?
  • If the communal sector is the arena of Participatory Democracy, what is its logic? What should it do? And, what is the interface and partnership between the two sectors?

Lecture 6: David Blunkett

  • David said that there was a very worrying gap between politicians and the political process on the one hand and people, their needs and concerns and the other. We need to bridge the gap by:
  • Politicians being more honest and listening.
  • People recognising that they ‘get the politicians they deserve’ and that it is, in part, their fault if they get uninspiring people.
  • The public sector not trying to do everything, but delegating more and more to people in neighbourhoods.
  • David stressed the need for a strong, but enabling, State which only did those things which others could not do. It really had to let go, not to the market system, but to ordinary people at neighbourhood level to manage more and more services like houses schools and parks.
  • He asked, what is the irreducible minimum which only the state can do? And, what is the maximum that ordinary people can do in their own neighbourhood? He said: “I can’t tell you. You tell me and I’ll try to deliver”.
  • The state is very wealthy and spend billions on the assets it owns and the services it delivers. But, the net outcome for real people in real neighbourhoods is a poor and debilitating quality of life. So, David asked, what would happen if, in a small number of neighbourhoods, those assets and services were audited and as much of them as possible was passed on to people to manage and use differently? Would the outcomes be better? Would the quality of life improve? If so, could the pilots become part of a Rolling Programme of the transfer of assets from the state to new association of ordinary people? He challenged those present to try it, be bold, take risks and let him know what the answers were.