Civic Exchange – ‘Big Society’ project derailed by cuts and distrust


David Cameron‘s flagship “big society” project is at risk of being derailed by savage cuts to grassroots voluntary groups and a collapse in trust among the very people the government expected to deliver its vision, according to an independent audit of the first two years of the initiative.

The report concludes that the big society lacks a clear vision and strategy and is in danger of becoming “an initiative for the leafy suburbs”, despite the prime minister’s championing of a policy he described at its Downing street launch in 2010 as something he hoped would be “one of the great legacies” of his government.

It says grassroots community groups expected to deliver the big society have been dealt a “body blow” by the first tranche of expected £3.3bn cuts in government funding to the voluntary sector over the next three years, while a support programme, introduced by ministers for charities at risk of going bust, was “too little, too late”.

As a result of the cuts and the government’s failure to communicate or deliver its big society aspirations, much of the goodwill civil society groups initially felt towards the project has now evaporated, says the report, published by the thinktank Civil Exchange.

The report’s author, Caroline Slocock, said it was too early to pass judgment on Cameron’s vision, which tapped into a “genuine seam of public interest”. But she said: “There are real question marks over the vision and delivery of big society.”

The report draws on more than 40 data sources to test progress on the government’s “three pillars” of the big society: enabling people to shape their local area, opening up public services provision to charities, and levels of “social action” such as volunteering. It finds:

• There is a widening “big society gap” in which volunteering and other forms of social capital are strongest in wealthy areas. Cuts have hit charities based in deprived areas the hardest, creating the danger that the project becomes “an initiative for the leafy suburbs”.

• Despite ministerial promises, charities and social enterprises have been sidelined in the market for government contracts, such as the Work Programme, which the report says has “an implicit bias towards large, private sector businesses”.

• The government lacks a common vision and strategy for the big society, while smaller voluntary groups vital to delivering the project have found it hard to make their voices heard in Whitehall. It cites figures showing 70% of charity leaders believed the government did not value or respect the voluntary sector as a partner.



One thought on “Civic Exchange – ‘Big Society’ project derailed by cuts and distrust

  1. David Cameron’s Big Society seems to be Rebecca Brooks taking an ageing nag off the Metropolitan Police and then getting rid of it when it became surplus to her requirements. Toffs helping other toffs and then letting them down when it isn’t fun any more.

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