The Big Society

Posted on 24th February 2011 by

At our Strategy Day in the winter we considered the importance of The Big Society as a policy to our work, particularly in light of the City Volunteering Strategy that we produced. I was a big supporter of The Big Society as a policy and as an idea. Last week Dame Elizabeth Hoodless, the retiring CEO of Community Service Volunteers was critical of The Big Society and the lack of resources to make it a reality. In the same week Liverpool Council withdrew from being a pathfinder. Third Sector magazine has published a poll where 80%  of readers admitted to being bored with The Big Society.

Despite The Big Society being hailed as a flagship policy for the government we are not seeing resources being put into it. Okay, The Big Society bank is being set up with dormant bank account funds but still no government funding for a major policy. The Community Organiser scheme will only pay key organisers for the first year and then it is on your own. Why am I left with a suspicion that massive spending cuts are being implemented with the intention that the voluntary sector will pick up the casualties?

The local Council has defended grants and funding to the sector but we are already seeing an increase in demand due to the cuts despite the fact they have not yet been implemented.  Last week the Council Cabinet debated its draft budget which contained £28million cuts in expenditure (a total of £82.5m over the next 4 years to be cut against a base budget of £251.3m for 2010/2011)  whilst claiming this will have little impact on services!

The Council has been not filling vacancies for some time now to avoid compulsory redundancies. The work of those vacant posts has not been covered. Interact, our learning disability advocacy service, has experienced a significant increase in referrals because of the drop in support. Our work on the Volunteering Strategy found that the barrier to increasing volunteering is the capacity of voluntary organisations to employ more volunteer coordinators. The voluntary sector is not going to have the capacity to pick up the casualties of the spending cuts without additional funding and that is clearly not going to be forthcoming. I think I have done a U turn.

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