Things feel pretty gloomy this morning. I’ve been spending the last couple of days telling myself and others that we need to stay hopeful. That the word prosperity has its roots in the latin word for hope. That we don’t need growth as we’ve always known it anyway. We’ll work it out, I tell myself. There are opportunities here, we must look for them, not lose hope, I keep repeating.
And I do believe all that stuff. I have to, because I think if you don’t, you might as well just give up. And I’m not prepared to do that. I have a son who’s 4 and we owe it to his generation to try to think of ways to work our way out of this mess. But that doesn’t stop it feeling pretty bleak this morning.
I grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s. I was 7 when Thatcher came to power. I’m not pretending that my life was all Boys From The Blackstuff gloom, far from it. But Liverpool, caught between Thatcherism and Militant, was a pretty grim place in the 1980s. The city is recovering, but has never really recovered. Many families and communities were scarred for life.
I haven’t digested all the news from yesterday yet so I don’t really feel like blogging about it today. So in true blogger style I’ll just talk about myself instead. What am I going to do now?
If I truly believe in my strapline – make it your business to change the world – then I need to see our current situation as a big opportunity to make a difference. Once the cuts start to hit there will be service after service which people say “We can’t lose that”. Amidst all of that, some of those services could be run by people themselves. Perhaps I can help there.
But I’ll also need to help by working with people to be realistic about opportunities. Lots of my work is done in areas where there is market failure – where the market has been propped up for years by funding of one kind or another. Sometimes even the most socially entrepreneurial group of people can’t do anything if the State retreats and takes its money with it. Or, the best they can do is think of a totally different way to meet the need. We need to be careful to not go down a load of dead-end streets which just waste everyone’s time and cause more anger.
And personally, where will I get my work? Like most people in the social enterprise sector I am overly reliant on the public sector to fund my work. I know the dangers in that but that’s where the money’s been. I don’t work in a sector where entrepreneurs come to me, wanting to spend some of their money on me. Other people pay me to work with entrepreneurs – Business Links, local Councils and the like. That money is going to be thin on the ground.
Big Society, I hear you cry. There’s a big opportunity there. Perhaps. But as I suggest above, social entrepreneurs aren’t social alchemists. Big Society will need investment, on a big scale, and a big change in mindset. How, for example, will third sector organisations, accustomed to funding, go about setting up new enterprising services? They’re used to finding funding for salaries etc for the start-up phase. If they’re not there, will they find other ways to bootstrap the start up? Or will they just not bother?
So I will need to continue to find new ways to work. I’m not your average consultant, and I’m by no means a clock watcher, but I still get paid, generally, on day rates. That’s likely to need to change.
I’m onto it – with my business partner Gill I’m running a DIY Business Planning course next month.
The next few years will be very DIY – as the State retreats people will need to become more resilient and do things themselves. This is our first attempt to meet some of those needs.
So I don’t feel gloomy, but I feel realistic. I feel hopeful, but I’m not stupid. I know full well that the next few years for me will see me fielding lots of interest from people who want to do something, but don’t have any/much money to pay me to do it. So I’ll have to think of different ways to work.
My interest, and concern is in how we hold together as a society in times like this. Clearly the cuts will hurt a lot, but its the cumulative effect, the possible loss of hope, and loss of a vision for a better society, which is most worrying. That’s the world I work in. So I need to get to work.