It could become the allegory of the "big society" age. The man appointed by the prime minister to kick-start a revolution in citizen activism is to scale back his hours after discovering that working for free three days a week is incompatible with "having a life". Lord Wei of Shoreditch, who was given a Tory peerage last year and a desk in the Cabinet Office as the "big society tsar", is to reduce his hours on the project from three days a week to two, to allow him to see his family more and to take on other jobs to pay the bills.
A common criticism of the plans, under which the government hopes that communities will take over the running of local services such as schools and charity projects, is that people don't have time to run a public service on top of holding down a job and seeing their families. Wei has told friends he is cutting his hours to allow him to earn more money and "have more of a life". He originally worked three full days a week and will now work two days, with the hours split over three, while taking on more non-executive directorships with private companies.
The role is voluntary and Wei had to to give up jobs in the charitable sector when he was appointed to avoid a conflict of interest. Whitehall sources said that when he was invited to take the role he had expected it to be remunerated but was told only the night before that it was a voluntary post and there would be no salary. Other unpaid coalition advisers include Lord Heseltine and the "digital champion" Martha Lane Fox – both millionaires.
Much of Wei's work has focused on how to free ordinary people from the daily grind to give them more time to do voluntary work and involve themselves in their communities under the big society plans. Since taking the post, Wei has had a relatively low profile and there have been suggestions that he has not made enough impact on the public understanding of 'big society'. The scheme is reported to be facing Whitehall resistance and the stretched capacities of local authorities.
Wei, 34, is a former management consultant who has no private income to fall back on [aaawww – Ed]. He was one of the founders of the Teach First scheme, then worked for Ark, one of the biggest sponsors of academies, before setting up the Shaftesbury Partnership, a social entrepreneurial company. A Cabinet Office spokesman suggested that Wei had worked extra hours in the early phase of the programme. "The government remains committed to devolving power to citizens and supporting a big society," he said.