This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The volunteer conundrum

There has talk recently of the "Expert Citizen" from the Reform thinktank. You can read all about the idea here. I have not read the whole report - merely the summary which says:
The research argues that the police service can successfully cope with further cuts in budgets if it mobilises the active support of “expert citizens” and recommends “an entirely different way of working” for the police which sees the public as assets in the fight against crime. It also recommends that police forces use private sector expertise to rebuild public confidence in policing.
Apart from the fact that (probably unbeknownst to them), they have plagiarised me, I am left pondering on this conundrum: if more and more public services are commercialised / privatised, what incentive will that leave ordinary citizens to volunteer to assist such services? 

Now, if it is about protecting my own family or property, the incentive will still be there. But if it is about helping the hedge fund (that now owns and runs the service) make even more profit to siphon off the Cayman Islands (or wherever)... why should I bother? Why would I offer my free labour to a for-profit company no matter how worthy the service that they have been commissioned to provide?

Given that the idea of the expert/empowered/enabled citizen is not an especially new one but the rising tide of almost irreversible privatisation of public services is (eg the NHS)... has anyone addressed this conundrum? From a brief scan of the Reform report, it does not appear that they have. (But I am happy to be corrected.)

But the issue runs deeper than this: if more and more public services are commercialised, this commercialises us all. Community support for the police (and other public services) becomes a commodity in a privatised world. And this leads to fragmentation since everything becomes a transaction of goods and services to be negotiated. 

Some politicians I would expect to he ideologically deaf to any of these points. However, I worry far more about the politicians who talk of a golden age of volunteering & community engagement but who don't seem to get the consequences of the rampant commercialisation and commodification of good public services. These are intricately connected in the public mind.

Please wake up!!!

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