Whose bank is it anyway?

Field of Dreams.jpgOne of our themes at POPse! was social investment. Coincidentally at the start of the week, the Cabinet Office revealed some details of the developing Big Society Bank idea, publishing correspondence between the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude and Sir Ronald Cohen and Nick O’Donohoe – who have been asked to develop proposals for the Bank’s operation.

So at POPse! we gave some thought to costs and benefits of focusing our time and energy on engaging with the idea of this long awaited Big Society Bank.

Costs include time and the opportunity cost of not focusing on other important developments. The much-ignored £200m Big Local Trust, for example, which is already getting started, the multi-billion pound Regional Growth Funds, the wider relationship between the state and the high street banks, the Green Investment Bank and others. There is also a potential risk that in talking about the Big Society Bank, we are only inflating an unsustainable bubble of hot air. This week has suggested to us that if you talk about building something for too long, people will lose interest. One of our sessions was characterised by a significant feeling of boredom and indifference to the Bank’s development.

Yet the benefits include the potential that there is something still to play for. This could even be a pioneering example of ‘nudge’ at its very best – if you keep talking about building it, they will come. (‘Nudge’ refers to the idea that policies may be better pursued through influencing behaviour through ‘softer’ levers rather than deploying the traditional ‘hard’ levers of, say, taxation, spending and regulating.) Perhaps the promise of supply will create demand? In any case, there could be a lot of money at stake here and potential to harness and build on the vibrancy of a market which many of us care about. So on balance, we have a nagging sense that despite the hype, it’s still worth engaging.

So what follows is our own open letter to Francis Maude based on the correspondence earlier in the week, along with the 20 most significant recommendations arising from our discussions. More detail building on the original outline proposal is also provided in annexe.

Big Society Bank (pdf)

We want to send thanks to those who have helped contribute to our thinking over this week. Particularly Graham from Deutsche Bank, Martin from Social Finance, Mark Campanale, Mark from the Big Lottery Fund, Niamh from Small Change, Helen H, Fergus from the TSRC and everyone else who has dropped by and engaged. Thanks particularly to Joe from NESTA, Jonathan from UnLtd, Matthew from LCRN, Faisel from Fair Finance, Ben Metz, Venturesome and many others.

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