What exactly does David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society amount to? The cynical, but evidence-based, conclusion is: spontaneous acts of unrewarded generosity by almost every segment of society except the state itself.
This is a tactic that comes with its perils. According to Alan Bell, chairman of Bell Design & Communications: “There needs to be a debate about what the Big Society actually means in terms of industry participation.
“One of the problems with this country is its ’quick, quick, quick’ City mentality. We don’t look enough to the long term. And now, as this recession is demonstrating, we’ve been caught out – with devastating consequences for our servicedriven economy.
“In a funny sort of way, the age of austerity may prove a catalyst for new thinking.
’If we don’t – for example – train our engineers of the future they, too, will be lost to China and India. That new thinking also applies to marketing. It takes time to understand the longer view; branding is not all about identity makeovers.”
Bell speaks from an unusual standpoint. His was the only agency to be selected by UKTI – the government-sponsored body that promotes British businesses internationally – to represent Britain at the Shanghai Expo this year. “Bell Design, which now has an office in China, has been conducting a series of branding workshops that brought its team into contact with some of the country’s most powerful regional bosses.
One thing the Chinese certainly understand, Bell says, is the longer view. He is fond of quoting the late Chinese leader Zhou Enlai. When asked what he thought about the impact of the 1789 French Revolution, Zhou – the architect of China’s industrial take-off – replied: “It’s too early to tell.”
The message is: take a leaf out of China’s book, or get left behind.