David Cameron has attempted to breathe new life into his much-criticised Big Society initiative, declaring that it is his “mission in politics” to make it succeed.
In a speech to social entrepreneurs in London, the prime minister said he was committed to rolling back the “Big Government” years of Labour and giving back topeople responsibility for their own lives.
“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 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.
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.
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.
“I think everybody has got to be concerned,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show. “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.
In an article for The Observer ahead of Monday’s speech, Mr Cameron denied the Big Society was intended as a “cover” for cuts - although he acknowledged society would benefit if more people volunteered at a time when services are being scaled back.
“As the state spends less and does less - which would be happening whichever party was in government - there would be a positive benefit if some parts of society were to step forward and do more,” he wrote.
In his speech, Mr Cameron is expected to declare his intention to lead a “social recovery” after years in which too many people had stopped taking responsibility for their own lives.
“Now I don’t think this has happened because we’ve somehow become bad people. I think at its core, it’s the consequence of years and years of big government,” he is expected to say.
“As the state got bigger and more powerful, it took away from people more and more things that they should and could be doing for themselves, for their families and their neighbours.”
The Big Society, he will argue, provides a way to fix Britain’s “broken society”.