Earlier this year, Bill Ivey made an important contribution to the RSA Journal entitled “Freedom of Expression” (Link opens in new window). In his article, Bill Ivey talks of the need to consider cultural rights and links these to a key question of sustainability and climate change: “If western market democracies must abandon the false promise of consumerism then how shall we live?”. This is a timely intervention for those of us who will be considering the future financial framework of our public services, particularly in local government but also in a wide range of government spheres.
In the current climate, there may well be a temptation to a Cromwellian, joyless, unthinking parsimoniousness when it comes to those aspects of public services that are to do with quality of life. Of course this cannot be at the expense of questions of the essentials in the lower orders of the Maslow hierarchy of needs (Wikipedia entry – opens in new window). However much recent thought shows that the required level of publicly funded basic services reduces where the quality of social networks, of social life, is highest. Maslow’s order should be considered as a spiral of virtuousness or decline, not a one dimensional hierarchy.
This applies not just to the question of local government arts and culture funding, it is also one for the quality of healing environments in health or learning experiences in education, or for the culture of policing as well as the economics of its practice, and for what we want out of the process as we reform the national framework of institutions into something more affordable. Such an approach requires public engagement on a large scale, with intelligent conversations in communities about what the options are, how they should be prioritised and what tough decisions must be made as a result.
The key question in the coming tight financial settlements is how to avoid an unthinking sacrifice of those things which actually help to create a sense of our country’s future culture, direction and values, and the role of people and places within it, which prevent the necessity for more obvious direct expenditure. If ever there were candidates for clearer ‘Total Place’ accounting, these are they. Encouraging people to live well and to carefully consider quality of life will be paramount if we are to have a future worth living in. We therefore need to think carefully before sacrificing the softer, non-statutory, publicly engaging things that we do, and look elsewhere for savings to review core overheads of our organisational structures and find radically different ways to do business.