Five reasons why you can’t trust Cameron with the Big Society

The Prime Minister will attempt to relaunch his "mission in politics" today. There are five reasons why you can't trust David Cameron with the Big Society.

The Prime Minister will attempt to relaunch his “mission in politics” today by setting out details of how a £200m bank will fund voluntary projects. Getting more people to volunteer is a laudable aim, but there are five reasons why you can’t trust David Cameron with the Big Society.

1. The voluntary sector is losing billions in Government support

David Robinson, founder of Community Links and a “key supporter” of the Big Society, called on the government to impose a six-month moratorium on local authority cuts to third-sector programmes, and to pump hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash into the big society bank to ensure vital charities and community groups survive beyond the next few months.

Dame Suzi Leather, chairman of the Charity Commission, has warned that cuts of up to £5 billion from key charities could “pull the rug” out from under Mr Cameron’s dream. A number of third sector groups have put together the Cuts Watch website to document and map the impact of cuts on third sector organisations. For example, the Citizens Advice Bureau is being cut by 45 per cent.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who heads the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said charities and social enterprises were already having to make redundancies and scale back their work. He told Sky News:

“You can hardly build a bigger society if the very people at the heart of that vision are cutting back on the work they do.”

Indeed, NAVCA, the national voice of local support and development organisations in England, has estimated that 26,000 charity staff will lose their jobs in 2011.

2. The number of volunteers and people in the voluntary sector is going down

As documented on Don Paskini’s blog, from 2000 to 2004, the number of people working in the voluntary sector rose steadily by 200,000. But in the first few months of Big Society between July and September 2010 it fell by 13,000. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey by three voluntary sector organisations reported by Third Sector showed that the sector employed 793,000 people during the third quarter of 2010, down from 806,000 in the previous three months.

3. People don’t appear to have enough time

David Cameron’s Big Society czar, Lord Wei, has returned to working his “agreed hours” after doing overtime in his role encouraging more community volunteering. According to the BBC, the former management consultant is reported as saying he wants to earn money and have “more of a life”.

And as the Wall Street Journal’s Iain Martin has written:

“the millions of [Cameron’s] fellow Britons who work long hours for not much money and come home to little more than a pile of ironing are already pretty busy”

4. Cutting public spending tends to reduce volunteering

As Johann Hari wrote in Friday’s Independent:

“The sociologist Amitai Etzioni conducted a major international study of volunteerism. He found that volunteering is highest where state funding is highest, and lowest where state funding is lowest. So high-tax Massachusetts has the most volunteers in the US, while low-tax Mississippi has the fewest. High-tax Sweden has the most volunteers in Europe, while low-tax Eastern Europe has the lowest. Far from “crowding out” volunteers, a big state attracts them, and a small state drives them away.”

5. The Big Society bank gives Cameron’s City chums a profit-making opportunity

The Civil Society publication reported last week that banks will earn a profit on the £200m pledged to the Big Society Bank by the UK’s high street banks as part of Project Merlin. The Project Merlin agreement outlined that lending would be on a “commercial basis“. Condemning the move, Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of the Young Foundation, told today’s Financial Times:

“If the Big Society Bank operates like a commercial bank providing money on essentially commercial terms to a series of retailers, then most of the money will go unspent.

“The reason is that there simply aren’t that many social ventures ready and able to take commercial money.”

As Bagehot’s notebook from The Economist put it:

“the public is mistrustful of any vision for Britain that blends altruism with the profit motive. And that is a big problem for the Big Society, which just does not add up if it does not include a dose of private enterprise.”

The final explanatory word goes to Peter McKay in today’s Mail:

“the true Tory character was revealed at its Black and White Party last week, in which five ‘internships’ at City banks were auctioned to wealthy Conservative-supporting parents for their children, with the £14,000 raised going to Tory funds.”

Hardly surprising when you remember that the City is in Cameron’s blood.

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67 Responses to “Five reasons why you can’t trust Cameron with the Big Society”

  1. scandalousbill

    Mike Thomas,

    Are you referring to Milburn’s statement?

    “The truth is if you’re going to solve crime, or regenerate a community, or improve somebody’s health, that is as much down to the individual as it is down to the state.”

    I think few would disagree. But it does seem to indicate a partnership between the state and individuals, not massive funding cuts and profiteering from the situation of the disadvantaged.

    With regard to social mobility initiatives, try reading for a change.

  2. Michael Haslam

    RT @FalseEcon: Good summary RT @leftfootfwd 5 reasons why you can't trust Cameron with the #bigsociety by @wdjstraw

  3. Stephen W

    1. Of course dramatic spending cuts are going to include grants to 3rd sector organisations. This is a problem for the Big Society initiative but not a fatal one. It is about making structural change. Funds will eventually go back up when there are funds to hand out. We have a £155 billion deficit if you hadn’t noticed.

    That said, many of these bodies are little more than Quangos by another name and do little to no essential work that Society could not do without. The Fawcett society leaps to mind. To quote Ben Brogan many of these people criticising the cuts representing the voluntary and charitable sectors “are neither volunteers nor charitable – they are paid and their money comes not from individuals but the state”. Charities that get most of their money from government are charities in name only. They are part of Big Government as much as the Big Society.

    2&3. Wow, you mean in a boom the number of people volunteering rose, and now in a recession and difficult recovery the number is falling ever so slightly. What a big surprise. How are these reasons not to trust Cameron with the Big Society? Are you suggesting he is responsible for the recession or what?

    4. Wow, I didn’t realise correlation necessarily implies causation. Thanks.

    Is it possible there are other factors involved as well? Like say, Massachusetts and Sweden are considerably richer than Mississipi and Eastern Europe? (Like by a factor of 2)

    5. Dear God No, someone is making a profit! Surely not! I am entirely outraged. How dare banks make a profit, I much preferred it when they were making massive lossses and the Labour party was throwing billions of pounds of our money at them to bail them out. That was a far more socially equitible arrangement.

    The truth is, even on commercial terms the £200 million will almost double all current funding available for social enterprises in this country. In addition to the other resources of the Big Society Bank it will more than double investment funding for social enterprises in this country.

    Mr Cameron is doing what he can in financially difficult times. Unless you’re suggesting there should be no spending cuts then criticising necessary reductions in grants to the 3rd sector is hypocritical and ridiculous. If you want to know why they are difficult I suggest you ask the Labour Party who let us get in this mess.

  4. Chris Salter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five reasons why you can't trust Cameron with the Big Society #ppnuk

  5. Brian Barefield

    RT @postpolionews: RT @leftfootfwd: Five reasons why you can't trust Cameron with the Big Society #ppnuk

  6. Matt

    @Stephen W

    1. Those CVOs that are receiving money, through grants or contracts, with public authorities are delivering public services. Isn’t that exactly what Cameron’s looking to increase? Only on the cheap, of course. And it might suit your argument to think that they are Quangos by another name but at the TUC/NAVCA event last week, there was a litany of essential local services that are facing the chop. That was just a flippant assertion with no basis in evidence of what’s actually going on out there. is a good place to start.

    2 and 3. No, I guess the suggestion is that Cameron’s expectations of the capacity of volunteers is hopelessly out of touch with the reality on the ground.

    4. I’m less sure of Hari’s point about a relationship between an active state and volunteers. I haven’t seen the evidence in great detail. Volunteers do require recruitment, training and capacity building. Much of this work is done by the state. Most of which is now out of the window. There is certainly a correlation between wealth and education and volunteering though. The Third Sector Research Centre have done good analysis of this. This does beg the question about volunteer capacity in areas of deprivation that will most need it.

    5. The point about commercial lending is that it has failed the sector up to now. Aside from the queasiness most of us feel about bailed out banks making a profit off funding to the voluntary sector that used to come from public purse, the fact is that CVOs and social enterprises have massive trouble accessing commercial funding. What terms will the banks be lending on and how this is anything new?

  7. lastname

    4. Cutting public spending tends to reduce volunteering

    1) Is Hari seriously suggesting that only difference between Sweden and Eastern Europe or Massachusetts and Mississippi is the size of government?

    2) Once you combine the charities sector in the various parts of the country ( ) with the size of government in the various parts of the country ( ) you get an opposite correlation.

  8. James Doran

    Five reasons why you can’t trust Cameron with the Big Society #CorporateWelfare

  9. salardeen

    RT @oranjd: Five reasons why you can’t trust Cameron with the Big Society #CorporateWelfare

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    Five reasons why you can't trust Cameron with the Big Society: The large divergence between the billions of fund…

  12. Redstar PCS Stoke

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five reasons why you can't trust Cameron with the Big Society by @wdjstraw

  13. Mr. Sensible

    The ‘Big Society’ has been exposed as just a cover for spending cuts.

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