Medal’s revival to recognise aims of Big Society

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THE revival of the British Empire Medal (BEM) has allowed the honours system to step up its recognition of “hands-on” service to local communities and the Big Society, the head of the Civil Service said.

Sir Bob Kerslake, who chairs the main honours committee, stressed that 72 per cent of today’s awards were for people involved in charity and voluntary work.

And he said the reintroduction of the BEM, the so-called working class gong scrapped by John Major in 1991, meant even more people from that sphere of life could be rewarded.

Some 293 BEMs are awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List today after Prime Minister David Cameron brought the medal back as part of his efforts to promote his idea of the Big Society of volunteering and community engagement.

This reverses former Tory Prime Minister Mr Major’s decision to scrap it because it clashed with the idea of a “classless society”.

BEM recipients today include retired middleweight boxer Terence “Terry” Downes, as well as Geoffrey Hopkinson, who gets the gong for services to beekeeping.

Sir Bob said the honours system sought to “celebrate extraordinary achievements of people in all walks of life and in all parts of the UK”.

“Essentially what we are trying to do is recognise people who have made a real contribution to their communities and to society. What the reintroduction of the BEM has done is help us extend the reach of the honours system by rewarding hands-on service to local communities,” he said.

Sir Bob, who was chief executive of Sheffield Council from 1997 to 2008, said Mr Cameron wanted honours to reward voluntary contributions to the community.

“One of the clear steers from the Prime Minister has been his desire to reflect in the honours system commitments around the Big Society, and to recognise in a very strong way the contribution of people to the community through voluntary effort,” he said.

“It very much fits with that agenda of recognising community contribution.”