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‘Robin Hood’ tax might help Big Society, says Dr Williams

23 March 2011

by Ed Thornton

A “ROBIN HOOD” tax on banks could be used to fund projects in local communities which are threatened by spending cuts, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested this week.

In his Commemoration Oration at King’s College, London, on Mon­day evening, in which he spoke on the theme “Big Society — Small World?”, Dr Williams s aid that the imposition of “a levy of something like 0.05 per cent on transactions in currency, stocks, and derivatives between major financial institutions . . . would gen­erate £20 billion per annum in the UK alone.”

He said that if the tax were “united to a coherent programme of capacity-building in local com­munities”, it might help to prevent the voluntary sector’s being paralysed by “heavy cuts in their public budgetary support”.

Last year, Dr Williams said that he was “very anxious” about the Government’s spending cuts, and that politicians “have not really thought through” aspects of the Big Society (News, 12 November).

In the King’s College speech, Dr Williams said that the Big Society concept had “suffered from a lack of definition”, which had “bred a degree of cynicism, intensified by the attempt to argue for devolved political and social responsibility at exactly the same time as imposing rapid and ex­tensive reductions in public expenditure”.

Nevertheless, the Big Society, he said, “represents an extraordinary opportunity” that is “too im­portant to let pass”.

He warned that “the relocation of political decision-making from state to locality . . . is doomed to failure unless it is accompanied by some sustained thinking about how character — and in particular civic character — is formed.”

He defined “character” as “one of those words we use to describe what happens when we begin to construct a serious, long-term account of who we are as persons, in conversation with others”.

Dr Williams argued that without “an education of the emotions”, involving “the nurture of empathy”, public life became “simply a matter of managing the competition of egos, with limited capacity to ques­tion themselves”.

The Church’s primary responsi­bility was “to be a place in which the formation of character . . . is of first importance”, Dr Williams said.

“But if the Church is actually nourishing empathy . . . then it is nourishing people who will con­tinue to ask difficult questions in the wider public sphere, questions . . . about how the priorities are identified when cuts in public expenditure are discussed, about the supposed absolute imperative of continuous economic growth, or about levels of reward unconnected with com­petence in areas of the financial world.”

In an address to his diocesan synod earlier this month, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said that the Big Society was “best understood as the promotion of a more neighbourly society.

“The first Christians cared as brothers and sisters for those cast aside by the societies of their day.

It was one of the reasons the Church grew. Such a big vision of humanity should inform the Big Society.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, in an address to his diocesan synod last weekend, said that the Church “will never be a creature of government”.

The Church, he said, “will always find it difficult to be exclusively identified with any political ideology or system”. Although there were “points of contact between the Church and the Big Society”, he cautioned people “not to identify the one exclusively with the other”.

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