Belfast Telegraph

£600m Big Society Fund is 'great chance for province'

By Sam Lister and David Hughes

Northern Ireland's biggest social enterprise has said the UK government's £600m Big Society Fund is a "great opportunity" for social enterprises here.

Prime Minister David Cameron (right) announced the fund yesterday, and said it would be used to help tackle the UK's "deepest social problems".

The Prime Minister claimed the money would help "smash away" the "patronising assumption" that small charities can't do big things.

Speaking at the London Stock Exchange, Mr Cameron said the City had always been associated with helping business expand but now private finance would "help society expand".

Big Society Capital uses a mixture of money from dormant bank accounts and the main High Street lenders to fund investment in charities and social enterprises.

The initial capital for the fund will be an estimated £400m in unclaimed cash from bank accounts dormant for more than 15 years and £200m from Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS.

John McMullan, chief executive of Bryson Charitable Group, welcomed news of the fund. "It provides a great opportunity for Northern Ireland's broad range of social enterprises to gain access to affordable capital to invest in their development and growth.

"Many local social enterprises are in the top 2% of local companies (based on a turnover of £5m and above). We hope that this will give a real boost to our vibrant local social economy but it remains unclear if we can access the £400m of the fund raised through dormant assets, as the decision has yet to be made whether our equivalent dormant assets are to be included."

Bryson employs over 650 people in providing services like recycling and care and has a turnover of over £30m.

The Prime Minister said the Government is following up on its promises.

Mr Cameron said: "Often people look at politicians and manifestos and wonder, will it ever happen?

"This Government is actually doing it. Big Society Capital has £600m of funds to invest in our society.

"Just as finance from the City has been essential to help businesses grow, take on the world, so finance from the City is going to be essential for resolving our deepest social problems.''

The Prime Minister said the best ideas came from "the ground up" and that by empowering communities those ideas could be best harnessed. He said: "That's why we are determined to take the three vital steps to help us build a bigger and stronger society."

Mr Cameron said this meant opening up public services to competition and choice, giving people more power and bringing social enterprises to the fore.

"There is a notion held by some that you've got these monolithic blocks of state-run welfare, state-run health care, state-run schools, prisons and hospitals and that's the way it's got to stay - that the voluntary sector is just there to fill in the gaps in between.

"In other words, leave the heavy lifting to Government. This is not just incredibly patronising, it is profoundly wrong."

Mr Cameron said Big Society Capital would help strengthen the new social investment market and put "financial muscle" behind "good things that are happening".

£400m

This initial amount of capital for the fund will come from dormant bank accounts

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