City must engage in debate over Big Society

 
Michael Bear
LAST week, the coalition government published a White Paper that puts further flesh on the bones of the Prime Minister’s vision for the Big Society.

The proposals in the Paper are designed to spur growth in charitable giving and in volunteering. It included an additional £40m in support for the voluntary sector.

It is imperative that the City engages in this debate and this initiative. The City can not afford to stand aside from such an initiative. Too often the City is seen as a world apart – unjustly so, as the reality is different, but that can be the perception. A perception we must address, as I know many people in the City are well aware.

I have seen how regeneration, supported by the City through finance and the Corporation’s own initiatives, helps local communities create jobs and foster enterprise.

As Lord Mayor I am promoting the role that philanthropy can play in improving lives. My Lord Mayor’s Appeal, Bear Necessities – Building Better Lives, raises money for two worthy causes: children’s charity Coram and the disaster relief charity RedR.

The City’s livery companies and guilds have worked with the young, elderly, the disabled and many other groups, across all sections of society, for centuries. This work goes on today.

But as David Cameron has outlined, community involvement is also about hands-on action in the shape of volunteering and skills sharing. I know many City workers already do a huge amount in this way

Last year’s entrants to the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, which highlight exactly this kind of sustainable support, created almost 500 jobs, helped over 30,100 school pupils and provided over 43,000 people with free legal advice through innovative projects with community organisations. This can be multiplied many times over since 1987, when the Awards began.

The Dragon Awards – named after the City’s mythical guardians, positioned at various points along the Square Mile boundary – demonstrate businesses of all sizes can do something, even in this time of austerity, to support the third sector.

Indeed, two-third of SMEs now engage in local community projects. If every firm in the UK did even a little, or a little more, the potential for local communities is huge.

That is why I am calling on City firms to prove they are world leaders when it comes to corporate responsibility, by putting forward their initiatives for recognition at www.dragonawards.org.uk.

The deadline for applications is 13 June, and we will be recognising excellence across a range of fields at Mansion House later this year.

The Big Society gives us a canvas on which to paint a positive picture of the City and a spur to expand our philanthropic activities, for the benefit of everyone, in the Square Mile and way beyond it.

Michael Bear is Lord Mayor of the City of London