Progress towards Big Society 'glacially slow', charities say

David Cameron Sir Stephen said David Cameron's Big Society idea should involve charities more in public services

There is "huge frustration" among charities that David Cameron's Big Society idea is being neglected, a spokesman for charity bosses has said.

Sir Stephen Bubb said the concept, which was central to the Conservatives' 2010 general election campaign, appeared to be "going nowhere".

He said that reforms to public services had been "glacially slow".

Sir Stephen leads an association which represents the chief executives of more than 2,000 charities.

In a letter to Mr Cameron, seen by The Times, the head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations wrote: "As Prime Minister, you described building a Big Society as your 'great passion' and 'central to my vision for our country'.

"You spoke eloquently of your desire to reform public services, with a significantly greater role for charities."

But Sir Stephen said the potential for charities to help transform public services remained "largely untapped".

'Magnificent history'

"The mood music across Whitehall has been that reform is off the agenda," he added.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir Stephen insisted that his comments were not a "whinge about cuts".

"The letter I wrote was not critical of the Big Society concept, in fact it's supportive.

"David Cameron's vision of a bigger, stronger society is something we want and we want to help him achieve it."

He said his position was best illustrated by an example: "Last month a hospice in Wales closed despite frantic efforts to raise money by the local community.

"This is against the background where we know that the majority of people at the end of their lives want to die supported at home or in a hospice, and yet the majority of people die in a hospital bed.

"That's more expensive and not actually what people want.

"So this is not an argument about cuts, but about delivering public services better."

'New generation'

He concluded: "If we reform and modernise public services, charities, which have a huge, magnificent history in the UK, could deliver more.

"There is huge frustration amongst charity leaders that these ideas about reforming public services don't seem to be going anywhere."

But a government spokesman rejected this analysis.

"From day one of the coalition government, we have worked to help charities and social enterprises do more good," he said.

"Red tape has been cut, new incentives for giving have been introduced and the world's first social investment institution, Big Society Capital, has been delivered.

"We are determined also to build on the success of the Games makers at the Olympics and inspire a new generation of volunteers through programmes like Join In and National Citizen Service."

But shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Sir Stephen's comments were "more evidence of the gap between David Cameron's Big Society rhetoric and the reality of his policies which are hitting the charitable sector hard.

"Over two thirds of charities are being forced to cut frontline services as a direct result of David Cameron's cuts which go too far, too fast, at a time when his government is making hardworking families pick up the bill for his economic failure with a tax on strivers."

The Cabinet Office website says the Big Society is about "helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It's about putting more power in people's hands - a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities".

The Office for Civil Society, part of the Cabinet Office, works across government departments to translate the Big Society agenda into practical policies.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Last time I tried to volunteer I was told I needed to have all kinds of checks on me. I only wanted to do the poppy appeal. Also I just tried to volunteer in havering. The lady the website directs you to has retired. This big society idea was just a soundbite for the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The Big Society idea was like most of Cameron's pronouncements-just empty words with no substance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Big Society = Big Con. It's never been about genuine support for the many fantastic voluntary organisations that enriich our society. It's about getting services that ought to be provided by statutory bodies on the cheap, i.e. paring the public sector to the bone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It is my understanding that the Big Societie was put in place so volunteers (free of charge) could take up the vacancies left by public service personnel who were sacked in the interests of ecconomic efficiency. I look forward to seeing Clegg doing a freebee as a dustman after the next general election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Big Society = political gab for "please take up our slack, for free". when I say slack, I mean the rope that mp's are HOARDING.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It's interesting to contrast the Big Society and Small Gov messages we hear almost constantly, with the actuall policies, such as
    Top down reorganisation of the NHS, driven by Gov
    Taking schools out of local authority power direct to central gov
    Cutting Quangos and giving their jobs directly to gov departments.

    Can somone show me some powers the Gov ever gave up?
    Seems like the opposite!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Perhaps the issue is the disconnect between what Cameron means by Big Society and what everyone else expected?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    This gvt sank millions getting volunteers for the Olympics - 2 months of glory for those enjoying the experience of a lifetime. The same gvt won't provide a penny supporting small groups that struggle on bread crumbs at grass roots in the community, to recruit, equip and manage local people ('volunteers') that care for the frail and elderly, day in day out - not just for a 2 mths worth of fame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Due to the fact that most people don't care anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    call me stupid, I pay tax and want something for it, I want the old taken care of by the state to which they contributed. I want decent benefits for the one who paid into the system. The big society is the governments way of getting something for nothing. Suddenly it's wrong to spend our taxes on the British people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "From day one of the coalition government, we have worked to help charities and social enterprises do more good,"

    From day one, the Environmental Charity that employed me tand otherts o help people with learning difficulties help clean beaches, plant flowers in local parks etc. had to make me redundant due to a dire funding shortfall. Then we knew straight away that that the B.S. was really B.S.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Charities who do public services funded from the public purse are actually private companies with a nice taxation arrangement, and volunteers who undertake work for free are just helping the balance sheet (and bonus of the CEOs) - not the clients.

    It's also a great way to hide vital cuts in public services. Only the public loses services, and tax payers get less for their money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @20. Some Lingering Fog

    Yes she did,

    I suggest you read it, like I did, and apologise for being rude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Cameron's 'Big Society' rubbish is another code for an elite distinguishing itself from the rest by telling us what they say we are not. This government is kicking the hell out of us. When politicians start to regard themselves as merely elected representatives, rather than separate and peerless, then we will be getting somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I think the main problem is that while Cameron means well he just doesn't really have any understanding of how the majority of people in Britian actually live. I've no problem with his privileged background but when he opens his mouth I regularly just feel like he has no idea how things really are for most people. I'm sure he thought the BS would work but it's no surprise to me that it hasn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The “BIG” con! How many politicians have any contact with the real world? Get out on the streets and share a cardboard box with the homeless. Spend the winter months kipping in a barn - join the seemingly endless queue for basic medical treatment . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "Big Society" is about giving some responsibility back to the people.

    As with all things if you have responsibility for something, you control it.

    Everything that Government assumes responsibility over it assumes control over.

    Take repsonsibility for yourself and you are free, relinquish responsibility and government controls you. With freedom comes great responsibility, to yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Managers should be subservient to practitioners. GP and dental practices have managerial support staff. The Health Service has practitioners subservient to managers. Charities have highly paid executives managing the practitioners. Politicians are also from the managerial class and are totally clueless about how things really work.
    Remedy? Replace MPs with practitioners; all else will follow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It's going no-where because it's a load of rubbish. At best it's misguided, at worst it a way to transfer blame for the collapse of public service away from central government so that when they cut funding someone else takes the blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Far from reforms to public services being 'glacially slow' as the article states, they've actually been hacking away at posts really quickly without having thought through exactly who's supposed to pick up the work that the cuts to local authorities staffing have meant will be still needed but without capacity to do so. So the reforms are happening, and fast. They're just incoherent


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