The report, launched in a packed out room in Westminster, was
introduced by ResPublica’s Philip Blond and later summarised by co-author Keith
Cooper, who cited bingo clubs as a key example of large, commercial
organisations that are used as social and community venues with far more value
to their communities than just offering games of bingo.
Communities and Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell MP
addressed the launch event, commenting that you cannot build communities from
the top down. He referred to the Government’s Localism Bill and the current
drive across Government to take power away from Whitehall, and place it in the
hands of communities. He linked the “refreshing” ResPublica report to the Big
Society and referred to bingo clubs as an example of organisations that
communities can have to be successful social entities. It was later argued,
however, that while communities should build themselves, Government does have a
role to play in providing the right regulatory landscape for this to happen. In
bingo’s case, this meant having a sensible tax regime that allowed the industry
to grow and support communities.
Caroline MacFarland from ResPublica spoke next on the panel and
said the report aimed to articulate the Big Society idea on a practical level,
explaining what it can mean on a day-to-day basis. Given that the majority of
activities that contribute to a successful society are not captured in a formal
sense, she agreed with the Minister that they cannot be created by top down engineering.
She discussed how clubs provide members with a sense of purpose, which in turn
inspires civic activity – and stressed the importance of creating the necessary
conditions to enable this.
Kevin Hamilton, speaking on behalf of the Bingo Association, and
Tim Lamb of the Sports and Recreation Alliance each discussed the benefits that
bingo and sports clubs respectively bring to communities. They went on to
highlight the tax-related issues placed on the two industries by Government,
calling for these to be dealt with. Both industries highlighted the need for
Government to take action to support them, rather than simply put the onus on
them to flourish no matter what the regulatory landscape they inherit.
David Halpern, of the Behavioural Insight Team at 10 Downing
Street, addressed the room next and suggested that, in creating communities,
everything comes down to whether one feels other people can be trusted; as this
affects health, crime levels, methods of governance, and growth rates. He
talked about the well-being agenda, and how the Prime Minister is trying to crystallise
the value of trusting. He said that although not all social interaction looks
the same, it is based on an ability to choose when, where and with whom one
interacts, and it is important to create opportunities for this. Thus far, the
Government has failed to adequately create these opportunities, and he
recognised that it needs to do more to enable citizens to interact. He stressed
that it is local Government, not central Government, that needs to create these
opportunities. Importantly, he mentioned that he wanted to look specifically at
bingo in due course now that he was aware of the issues in more detail.
Speaking last, Martin Blackwell of the Association of Town
Centre Management discussed the Mary Portas review, and claimed that her
message is now more about communities than just high streets. He considered the
money that is provided to communities with no instructions as to how best to
spend it, and suggested that this money should go towards putting clubs
together. He endorsed the funding of activities by those who want there to be
more of them; however, he also stressed the importance of ‘time-backing’,
whereby people offer their time to ensure that activities actually happen.
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