Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Big Society under further attack

  • 1 Comment

David Cameron’s “Big Society” vision has come under further attack after a senior civil society figure said “draconian” spending cuts were “destroying volunteering” across the country.

Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, who is stepping down after leading Britain’s largest volunteering charity, Community Service Volunteers (CSV) for more than 40 years, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the government had failed to provide tangible opportunities for people to do more in their communities. She added that in some cases “massive cuts” imposed on local authorities had actually taken such opportunities away.

She said: “The cuts that are being imposed on local government and the health service are taking place now, so a lot of very worthwhile programmes - for example, volunteers working in child protection as promoted by the minister for children - are now under threat of closure because local authorities have to make immediate cuts. It’s about one hand not appreciating what the other hand is doing, and not making the decisions in a timely fashion.”

In an earlier interview with the Times newspaper, Dame Hoodless said the government was in danger of “destroying the volunteer army.” She said: “Once you close a library, there is nowhere for a volunteer to help. Few people want to be responsible for the library. Most people want to feel there’s an expert on the premises. They are quite happy to issue and re-shelve the books, but taking the final responsibility is a bit more than most people want to do.”

Dame Hoodless’s comments pile further pressure onto the concept that Mr Cameron had hoped would take root during a time of savage spending cuts. Last week the government’s “Big Society tsar” Lord Wei admitted that he did not have the time or resource to continue giving volunteering his services to the extent he had done over the past six months.

Then Phil Redmond, Liverpool’s “Big Society champion” said the initiative was being “subsumed” by spending cuts. Later Liverpool City Council said it could no longer continue with its involvement in the city’s “Big Society vanguard” due to the impact of spending cuts on its budget

Responding to Dame Hoodless’s comments, Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, said on the Today programme that some charities had become “too dependent on the state” and that the government wanted to help them become more independent.

But he said the government was also making money available to help them manage the transition. Mr Hurd also dismissed claims that the “Big Society” idea was too vague. He said: “For me, it’s about bringing the country together and giving everyone a chance to make a contribution. We are not inventing something here. We are pointing to something really magnificent in this country and saying we want to build on.”

But shadow cabinet office minister Tessa Jowell said the government was “on the brink of destroying this country’s great tradition of community support and solidarity”.

She said: “The consequences of their actions will be the slow death of a number of community groups, which will be irreversible in the short or medium term. David Cameron can no longer straddle two contradictory positions - sustained cuts in support to community groups and a Big Society notion which relies on the capacity and engagement of those very same organisations.”

For more on this story see chief reporterAllister Hayman’s blog.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Interestingly the 'Big Society' still offers a tremendous boost to service improvement and resolution of post recession pressures, we simply need to think differently and bigger.

    I've been working on this concept and am producing a paper on it, with the core fundaments already within a mind-map, it's potential is several magnitudes greater than CCT and Best Value ever could have been.

    We basically must look at the pressures on the economy and the resources available, with a different framework of thinking, Britain has the potential to become an increasing world player, rather than going further down the socio-economic league table. This IS the best opportunity we have, let's get positive about it!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.