14 December 2011 by Graham Ellicott, Previous FIA CEO

At the recent 2011 Future of Fire Summit one of the leading speakers, certainly the one that gave me the most food for thought was Ben Lucas of the 2020 Public Services Hub at the RSA. This probably says more about me than the other speakers.

Ben opened his presentation with a list of the cuts that the Government is bringing to public expenditure. He then went on to discuss the effects of an ageing population and how this would skew spending in future.

With regard to Public Services Ben gave the vision of focusing on the long term, based upon a new relationship with the citizen to achieve social productivity by mobilising state and social resource to achieve social outcomes. Ben talked about a shift in power from the centre to the citizen which, I guess aligns, to some extent, with the current Government’s ambitions with the Big Society.

Personally, I’ve always been in favour of the citizen having a larger say and I have tried in a small way to become involved where I live with initiatives that involve education and provision of services to disabled young adults. The difficulty for me has been the amount of time that I have to devote to this because of family and work commitments. Now that the family has grown up and moved out (still wants money though!) I have more time and have become more serious about these local initiatives.

However, my one fear for an enhanced ‘new –fangled’ 2020 approach is that many of the other seriously involved people are all similar to me; approaching their dotage with the men having bulging waist lines and little grey hair while, many of the ladies have a serious tweed suit habit. Although the latter still exhibit better dress sense than I with my faded blue jeans and fleece which makes that sage of our times, Jeremy Clarkson, look well dressed.

So, what more of this fear? Well, in a nutshell, would you want your local services run by a narrow part of society of a certain age with poor dress sense? Of course not. We dotage approaching guys have our place but we need augmenting by young vibrant people with ideas and energy. Finding the young energetic types who have the time and the ability has always been onerous and I fear this will become more difficult in these times of austerity. If they are not found, then while the Big Society may be a great idea, it could become dominated by the faded jeans and tweedy set.

My plea to Ben and others that are involved with the Big Society is please make sure that citizen engagement gives a balanced view from society, not just from a certain age/sex and/or socio economic group.

As for me, come 2020 will I care? Will I be too old and still have my own teeth? Will West Ham be back in the Premiership? These big questions demand answers and I shall continue to try and find them. All I ask is that my care home has draft beer, is close to Upton Park and that faded blue denim and fleeces are the order of the day...