Today I have the great pleasure of taking part in our Big Society Event to help launch a key theme in our manifesto.
Since 1997, Labour has, true to its roots, concentrated on building big government. Gordon Brown’s unremitting control-freakery has peppered public services with targets and processes, regulation and paperwork. The result has been a bigger state.
We want to reverse this. We want to breathe new life into public services by making them more genuinely public – we want public sector workers to have a much greater say over what they do and how they do it. We want to make it easier for people to contribute to the lives of their communities in the ways they see best. We want a bigger society.
This mentality drives one of our most exciting proposals for young people – the National Citizen Service. This will offer all 16-year olds the opportunity to take part in a three-week social project in the summer after they’ve finished their GCSEs. First and foremost we want young people to experience a challenge – we’ll take them out of their comfort zones on a residential team-building course of a week or more.
After that they will be sent back to their own communities to consider what they think they can do to help meet their area’s needs. They will then draw up plans for social action projects which they will set up and keep going with volunteer work in the following year. This will be inspirational hard work giving every young person the opportunity to rub shoulders with others from very different walks of life and work with them to build better societies and communities.
Equally we need to build better rites of passage for young people in this country. At the moment too many of the perceived markers for adulthood are negative – getting drunk, smoking, having underage sex – NCS is an opportunity for us to offer the youth of today an indication that society will value them by what they put in, not what they take out.
This is more than just a pipedream. Last summer, a charity set up by the Shaftesbury Partnership called The Challenge ran pilots on our specifications in Southwark and Hammersmith and Fulham. We followed these trials with great interest and, using the results of an independent evaluation, we are now using this to fine tune our ideas ahead of a hopeful rollout after the election.
Over the past 13 years, the Government have made out that youth is something that needs fixing. We think young people should be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And we want their help to mend our broken society.