What’s the big idea?

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Author: 
Jon Collins
Date: 
27 April 2015

It’s only a few weeks until the general election and, as always at general election time, there are opportunities now and in the next couple of months to promote new ideas that could reshape the policy environment. This will be harder to achieve once the daily grind of government sets in for whichever party or parties are successful in May. 

Restorative justice is unlikely to be a major issue during the election campaign. All the main parties broadly support its use and there’s not enough public interest in it to make it part of the debate. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be opportunities to promote restorative practice as the new government is formed. Only a tiny fraction of what any party goes on to do in government is discussed at all in the run up to the election. 

At the RJC, we promote a whole range of policy changes and practice innovations that would embed restorative approaches across public services and help to create a genuinely restorative society. We have a lengthy shopping list of proposals that we would like to see the new government implement, with ideas that could inform the approaches taken by the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government, for example. 

But incoming ministers, and their advisors, don’t have time for a shopping list. They want a big idea – a single policy that they can get hold of. The details follow later. When they ask what we want, as has happened to me in the past, they want one proposal, not a fifteen-minute lecture. And that one proposal needs to be both ambitious and realistic. 

So what is that one big idea? For criminal justice, should the new victims’ law - inevitable whatever the makeup of the new government - give every victim of crime access to restorative justice? Or, as there’s surely no point in driving demand if it’s not matched by capacity, would we be better to focus on a significant increase in quality provision? If so, how would that be best delivered? Alternatively, however dull, would a new government actually have the greatest impact if they legislated to sort out ongoing problems with information sharing that hamper the effective delivery of local services? 

Outside of criminal justice, we have a whole range of ambitious proposals that we want to push. But we need to be realistic. Eventually we’d like to see every school and care home using restorative approaches to prevent and respond to conflict. But that’s unlikely to happen just yet. So what should we ask the Department for Education to do in the meantime that would be a positive step forward? And is it realistic to ask the government to systematically promote the benefits of restorative practice to care home managers? I think that it is. Maybe we should go further.  

We have our own views on how best to drive take up of restorative practice. We’ll be taking every opportunity to promote them to the incoming government and when we get asked what we want to happen next, we’ll be ready with an answer. But we always want to hear the views of our members and all those in the restorative practice field. What’s the one big idea that would make it easier to achieve your goals?