PM denies Big Society 'saving' motive

Big Society not about saving money, Cameron insists
Big Society not about saving money, Cameron insists

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron has denied his 'Big Society' agenda is an attempt to save money as he announced details of four "vanguard communities" in a major speech.

The prime minister launched the initiative in Liverpool today in a speech confirming that money from dormant bank accounts will be used to fund projects run by social enterprises, charities and community groups.

Tory strategists' search for a 'big idea' before the general election seized on the Big Society as a way of providing an intellectual link between the Conservative priorities of boosting social action, public service reform and community empowerment.

The idea failed to catch the public's imagination during the campaign, but polls suggest ordinary people support it when it is explained to them - which Mr Cameron today attempted to do.

"The Big Society is about a huge culture change; where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace, don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities," the prime minister told his audience.

"The truth is that we need a government that actually helps to build up the Big Society. This means a whole new approach to government and governing."

Critics have pointed out attempting to get ordinary people to improve public life is politically convenient, as it does not have significant budgetary implications.

But Mr Cameron denied the purpose of the Big Society drive was to relieve pressure on the Treasury.

"This is not about trying to save money. This is about trying to have a bigger, better society," he told the BBC's Breakfast programme earlier.

Mr Cameron said the coalition government's academies agenda, giving local groups the opportunity to take control of their schools, reflected the popular enthusiasm for devolving power as far as possible.

He added: "I find when you ask people would you like to have greater control over your life and your community people respond very positively."

As well as Liverpool three other areas will receive additional help from dormant bank accounts' funds - the London borough of Sutton, Cumbria's Eden Valley and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire.

Mr Cameron said officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government would be dispatched to the four areas where the Big Society is being tested first to help the process.

"This is not an initiative. We have not hired a tsar. These are not 'pilots' that will be 'rolled out'. This is a big advance for people power," he concluded.

"The people power I have spoken about for years. The liberal society that Nick Clegg spoke about on Friday. And the big change this coalition government wants to bring."

Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell was dismissive of the speech, however, calling it "simply a brass-necked rebranding of programmes already put in place".

She said a social investment bank and for community pubs had already been put in place - and added residents are already involved in setting council budgets

"We welcome the coalition's decision to continue our work in partnership with local communities, but these projects are dependent on funding and resources being put in place," Ms Jowell said.

"It is therefore highly unlikely that civil society will become 'bigger' due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this government."


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