The Big Society

On Sunday one million people attended street parties with their neighbours as part of ‘The Big Lunch', and there were local events in Pulborough and Hurstpierpoint.

But it wasn't just about having a great time.  It was this spirit of community that David Cameron was talking about when he launched his Big Society initiative on Monday.

After 13 years of a government that tried to manage every aspect of our lives from Whitehall, we need to turn government on its head and give power back to people and communities.

Of course people contribute in all sorts of ways already.  At the Storrington Village Day I met the First Responders, volunteers who are trained to give life-saving treatment before the paramedics arrive.

And as a Vice President of the West Sussex Community Minibus Association, I know how people rely on the volunteers who provide this valuable service.

We've got successful community shops in Amberley and, recently, in Kirdford, with another planned in Slindon.  I'd like to see new community schools being set up, too.

Even in the area of law and order, there's a role for the Big Society.  We can make neighbourhoods safer if communities are involved.  As the founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, famously said, "The police are the public and the public are the police."

So we want to build on neighbourhood watch and community crime fighters.  Literally millions of people are already involved in these schemes.  Their contribution is as important in fighting crime as the state organisations.

The Government has said that we will create a Big Society Bank to help finance social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups, using money from dormant bank and building society accounts.

Some commentators have been sceptical about the Big Society.   But yesterday, when I met police officers, PCSOs and community activists on an inner London housing estate, they all - quite spontaneously - mentioned it.

On the ground, they've seen the power of working together - state agencies alongside communities - to get things done.  And when I heard them talking so enthusiastically, it confirmed my view that the Big Society really is a big idea.

Christopher N Howarth