Liverpool City Council has withdrawn from its involvement with David Cameron’s Big Society vanguard saying that the spending cuts that have been imposed on the city have made it impossible to continue.
In a letter to the prime minister David Cameron (attached right), Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson (Lab) said the council had decided to withdraw from its involvement in the Big Society vanguard initiative, which had been launched by the prime minister in Liverpool six months ago.
But Cllr Anderson said the £141m in cuts imposed on the council in the local government settlement meant the council could no longer continue with the initiative.
He said: “This level of cuts will significantly impact on council services, including the funding of many of our voluntary and community groups.
“How can the City Council support the Big Society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?
“I have therefore come to the conclusion that Liverpool City Council can no longer support the “Big Society” initiative, as a direct consequence of your funding decisions.”
The move came as Phil Redmond, the Liverpool Big Society vanguard’s champion, said the initiative had become “subsumed” by spending cuts. As revealed in LGC, Mr Redmond said the project had been put on hold while National Museums Liverpool, which he chairs, dealt with its own spending cuts.
Mr Redmond said: “I went along with it all because I thought it would be a good way of getting things going, but it’s been impossible to get any traction because of the cuts - everyone is dealing with post-spending review trauma,” he said.
Cllr Anderson told LGC that initially the council had not been involved in the vanguard and that three months after the launch he wrote to ministers asking to be involved.
He told LGC:”We had absolutely nothing to do with it. All they did was speak to Phil Redmond. They didn’t have the courtesy to invite the council to be involved. When they arrived in Liverpool to launch it I had to sit in the audience in my own city. It was a disgrace,” he said.
In his letter to Mr Cameron, Cllr Anderson said that when the council did eventually become involved with the vanguard in October, it “took up this challenge wholeheartedly and … invested significant resources to deliver [a] substantial programme of activity.”
But he said promised support from the government had not been forthcoming. He said: “When we agreed to become a vanguard, your government promised to work with us to remove some of the problems and blockages that were preventing us from successfully delivering our Big Society programme. I have to say, the government has failed to deliver a single change that we have requested, which has severely hampered many parts of our programme.”
Cllr Anderson added that Liverpool had “been doing the “Big Society” for many years” and would continue to do so. He said: “We call it “working with our communities” and it is something we are very much committed to.”
The move follows the admission from the prime minister’s ‘Big Society tsar’ Lord Wei, that due to family and finanical pressure he could no longer committ as much volunteering time to leading the Big Society agenda.
Tessa Jowell, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, said: “David Cameron’s Big Society is imploding. Over the last 48 hours, Lord Wei has said that he doesn’t have the time, Phil Redmond has said that he doesn’t have any confidence in it and now the city of Liverpool has decided to pull the plug.”
A Department for Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “The Big Society vanguards are led by local communities and people - not central government. The initial four vanguard areas have been invaluable training grounds and have demonstrated where barriers, both cultural and practical, should be removed through deregulation, direct support or measures in the Localism Bill.
“Every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to help reduce the massive budget deficit, and help ensure jobs and economic stability. But the new government is giving councils real freedoms to promote local economic growth and to focus resources on frontline services and local priorities.”
For more on this story see chief reporter Allister Hayman’s blog.