14 Feb 2011

David Cameron outlines mission for successful Big Society

David Cameron says it is his “mission in politics” to give people more responsibility despite spending cuts. Political Editor Gary Gibbon writes that Broken Britain is back to sell the Big Society.

Prime Minister David Cameron says he is committed to rolling back the “Big Government” years of Labour and giving back people responsibility for their own lives by pressing ahead with the Big Society initiative.

In a speech to social entrepreneurs in London Cameron attempted to breathe new life into the Big Society, saying it is his “mission” to make it a success. “This is my absolute passion,” he said.

“Let me make one thing absolutely clear – I’m not going to back down from what I believe in just because of a few bad headlines,” he said.

“The Big Society is my mission in politics. It’s what I want us – as a country – to build. Together. And I’m going to fight for it every day, because the Big Society is here to stay.”

The Prime Minister rejected criticism that the concept was “too vague” and a “cover for cuts”, insisting it was central to the “social recovery” the country needed.

The Government is set to bolster the scheme with a series of new initiatives including a £100m transition fund to help charities and social enterprises bid for new government contracts to provide services.

The Big Society is my mission in politics. It’s what I want us – as a country – to build. Together. David Cameron

A Big Society bank – with £200m in reserves from the high street banks – will provide working capital for the successful applicants to help them get going.

Big Society criticism

The move comes amid growing criticism of the Government’s attempts to broaden the role of the voluntary sector at a time when public services are under intense pressure.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, became the latest public figure to enter the debate, warning that investment in public services was needed if the Big Society was to flourish.

Broken Britain back to sell Big Society 
"Broken Britain" was David Cameron's buzz phrase of choice for a while in opposition, writes Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

But it was quietly ditched (it was thought to beg some very expensive mending questions and to contrast uncomfortably with David Cameron's optimistic outlook). Today it's been revived in support of Big Society.

The Big Issue founder John Bird has done an evangelical build-up in the beautiful surroundings of Somerset House on the banks of a sunlit Thames.

"Too fluffy and too wispy," was how John Bird said people saw Big Society.

David Cameron has tried to answer a question my programme boss asked me this morning – how does Big Society fit into the cuts story? Cutting the deficit, David Cameron said, was his "duty", but Big Society was his "mission."

The PM then rattled off a list of very big cash numbers he said the government and financial institutions could be spraying in the direction of the voluntary sector (though much of it would be commercial loans and £1bn of government contracts in areas where the state is reaching out to get non-state providers to do stuff the state currently does). But the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations reckons charities are losing more than £3.1bn by 2014-15 in council grants.

There seems to be a mis-match in numbers and scale…

Read more on the Politics Blog

“I think everybody has got to be concerned,” he told the BBC. “The Big Society, which is right, has got to build capacity and investment has got to go into it.”

He echoed Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the outgoing head of Britain’s largest volunteering charity, Community Service Volunteers, who warned last week that Government cuts were in danger of “destroying” the country’s volunteer army.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said that the whole Big Society strategy was being undermined by the cutbacks.


“No one can volunteer at a library or a Sure Start centre if it’s being closed down,” he said.

“And nor can this Conservative-led government build a Big Society while simultaneously undermining its foundations with billions of pounds worth of cuts to the voluntary sector.”

But the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, told Channel 4 News that the Big Society brand had not been “contaminated”.

“I don’t hear people pushing back against what we are trying to achieve here, which is to give people more power,” he added.

“This is difficult, gritty work. We know it is hard, but we are determined to try and help the sector get through this painful period of transition.”