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Sutton backs PM's troubled Big Society vanguards

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Sutton LBC has reiterated its support for David Cameron’s troubled Big Society vanguard programme in the wake of Liverpool City Council’s decision to withdraw from the initiative.

Sutton’s leader Sean Brennan (Lib Dem), who is leading one of the four Big Society “vanguard” projects announced by the prime minister last July, said Liverpool’s decision to withdraw from the initiative was “disappointing”.

He said: “We will continue to support it because we believe in the principle and taking part in local life is part of our DNA.

“The Big Society is actually very simple; it’s about local people knowing what’s going on, being able to have their say and get involved in the running of their area if they want to.

“Our experience of the Big Society is that many people in Sutton are not just willing but enthusiastic to play a more active role in their communities if you involve them in the right way.”

Liverpool council leader Joe Anderson (Lab) said £141m in cuts imposed on the council in the local government finance settlement meant the council could not continue its involvement in the Big Society initiative.

The council’s move followed comments by the vanguard’s “champion”, Phil Redmond, revealed in LGC, who said the Big Society initiative had become “subsumed by cuts”.

A spokesman for the prime minister said: “We’re looking into what the particular issues are and whether there were any barriers or problems in that project to see if there’s anything we can do to unlock that.”

A Sutton LBC spokesman said the council had already had “some successes” through its Big Society vanguard, including a scheme to hand out grit to residents so they could help keep the borough’s pathways clear during bad weather. He said around 10,000 householders collected a 10kg bag of grit, he said.

He said: “It was so popular that a bag of grit for every 60m of road in the borough was handed out and meant there were thousands of people helping to clear the pavements rather than the 100 council workers we had the previous winter. Hundreds of residents also collected grit for their neighbours to help out the elderly or those without cars, which was very ‘Big Society’.”

He added the council was having similar success with a pothole scheme, where “residents act as the eyes and ears of the council to pinpoint where potholes are in the borough”. Local police have also enlisted the help of residents to help them catch speeding drivers and motorists who speak on their mobiles while driving, he said.

According to the Department for Communities & Local Government, Sutton LBC’s vanguard will also work on reducing street clutter & removing “regulations and procedures which hinder the implementation of traffic schemes” as well working to “explore how young people can be involved and take a leading role in creating the Big Society”. DCLG also said government officials would work with the borough to provide “expert advice on options for setting up a decentralised energy network”.

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

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