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 68.

    Big Society, yes we have it, the daily increase in Food Banks, the rolling back of the Welfare State and the NHS, poor and disabled being downtrodden by the Powers of the State, Big Society, I would call it a BROKEN SOCIETY!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    This only tells part of the story though.

    The number of kids going to the youth group I help run as more than doubled in the past 2 years, and we get no government/council funding at all.

    So not all voluntary sector organisations are complaining about funding cuts. Some are relying on the determination of their volunteers and being very successful at what they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    "a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities".

    Alternatively a massive abdication of responsibility from Whitehall to local communities.
    Big Society has about as much life in it as a Norwegian Blue parrot or alternatively the coalitions relaunch of it's lies delusion and deceit.
    People are fully aware of where the priority lies & its not with the electorate it's big business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Just one other point. Again, there's a tendency for people on here to be turning against the charities rather than turning against the people who are creating the situation. I've worked across all sectors and the charity employees and volunteers are consistently the most committed, hard working and 'efficient' of the lot compared to some. Many do amazing work. Dont forget

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    10. Brookone
    "Our current society is pre-occupied with materialism and the individual"

    You can thank Mrs Thatcher for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Clearly the problem here is interpreting the 'Big Society' as something tangible and real that the government are working toward, as opposed to what it actually is; empty sloganeering

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The big society's progress is very slow going.... not surprising when the major part of society is suffering with poverty in real terms, whilst the minority could live on the interest of the money/investments they already have ( and still want lots more of ) Talk about DOUBLE STANDARDS

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Camerons 'big society' is just another way of saying:-

    'handing over all of our social services to religious groups'

    Who in turn can discriminate/evangelise at will with OUR money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Isn't a need for BS in Chipping Norton or The Bullingdon Club so it is hardly surprising that DC doesn't have a clue.

    Threatening to close libraries and hoping for volunteers to run them, the failing commercialisation of The MS Society converting it from a successful caring, volunteer, group are two examples of Tory ineptitude.

    Fair pay, fair tax and decent public service is what's needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    At 55
    The Tories only need to carry on Taxing as Labour still could not afford the "Nannying" that it provided and borrowed even more, knowing the Tories would have to recoup the money, while being blamed for it by people like you!!!
    Graphis - You have fallen hook, line and sinkler into the Labour spin trap set for all the gullible people out there!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The real problem is that for ordinary folk to be doing all this charity work what is needed is community - and society (money driven) and community (people driven) are mutually exclusive.
    How come the independantly wealthy DC is still taking his salary and expenses, (no more than extra pocket money to him) rather than doing his "job" voluntarily?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    We used to have something called 'charity' in this country but under the last administration and to some extent that before, most 'charities' have become leeches on Government, with most of their funding coming from govt and much of their spending going on lobbying government.

    Perhaps if we were not taxed to penury we might have something left to donate to charities of OUR choice...

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    'Glacially slow'? That's unfair!

    Glaciers actually move. This idea could be overtaken by continental drift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    In a nutshell, Labour wants to be 'Nanny", looking after every aspect of our lives until death. Tories want to kick us out at 18 to stand on our own two feet. Labour wants to tax us to the hilt to pay for their nannying. Problem is, Tories want to tax us to the hilt too! Sorry, but if I'm being taxed to the hilt, then at least I want the government to provide services. Big Society = Small Taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Why is it the government’s job to create a big society, surely it’s the general public that creates it’s own society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Pretending that British society is all about helping each other and being friendly is utter hogwash.

    Take a trip on the tube in London. Case closed.

    This idea will never and was never gonna amount to anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Nice idea - could do more, and it's not just about money.
    It's about motivation, shared values, and benefits, it's about community. But -
    commitment to volunteers, volunteer development in the form of training, experiences related to paid work and personal development are very important. Otherwise volunteering is the reside of the privileged comfortable classes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The idea behind "Big Society" is "small government". However, behind "small government" must also come "small tax contribution" so people have more money to spend on "Big Society". As you can see, there is a glaring gap in Dave's wish for BS. Therefore Dave, start delivering Big Government services or reduce our tax contributions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Charities which rely almost entirely on state funding are not charities at all, in any real sense. Just an arm of the state, but kept off the books. The salaries of those at the top of these so-called charities are truly eye-watering. This is no way to run anything, there is a complete democratic deficit. Who do these charities answer to? No accountability to Parliament, but publicly funded?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The idea that there is an army of volunteers out there ready to do fill the gap in public services for nothing is delusional. I am unclear what the organisations with charitable status are moaning about but it would appear that they are unhappy that the public sector hasn`t moved to one side so that they can get their noses in the tax payer funded trough


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