Politics 1 May 2012 It's hard to be fluffy and efficient The government has to decide whether it outsources for ruthless efficiency or its fluffy "big societ Print HTML Ben Phillips writes for Left Foot Forward: One of the big ideas behind the government’s welfare reforms is that local charities would be better at getting the unemployed into work than government. It just so happened that there would be a middleman – often a big contractor like A4e that. . . carries £200 million of public sector contracts. Once the contractor takes on the case, they then find a subcontractor – the small local organisation – who will actually help secure employment for the jobseeker. Except that specialist trade magazine Third Sector have reported the majority of welfare-to-work subcontractors in one survey have had precisely no client referrals. This seems to be a pattern in initiatives aimed at harnessing the power of the "big society". It's fundamentally a mismatch between two competing – and contradictory – aims of outsourcing. Normally, the state outsources because it thinks the private sector can do a better job; if there's an element of publicity in it, its that governments sometimes like to be seen to be reducing the burden of the public sector. Under the Conservatives, a second aim has been grafted on to that: make the government look fluffy. The rhetoric of the big society isn't just about removing the government, but also about putting power back in the hands of the people. Unfortunately, transferring control of, in this instance, the welfare-to-work schemes from a government to a massive outsourcing firm doesn't achieve that goal particularly well. Hence this strange split-level structure. The government can't afford to deal with charities directly (literally can't afford – the administrative overheads for dealing with the hundreds of local operations would be prohibitive), so it contracts out the role to middlemen. Unfortunately, it appears from Third Sector's report that the middlemen aren't particularly interested in boosting the big society agenda. › Breivik remains unmoved at his trial David Cameron launches Big Society Capital in April. Photograph: Getty Images Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter. Subscribe More Related articles Jeremy Corbyn is not standing down – 172 Labour MPs cannot drown out democracy Investors are panicked by Brexit – here’s why we should care Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?