Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Archbishop: Big Society toothless

David Cameron's Big Society initiative is toothless, the Archbishop of Westminster has warned

David Cameron's Big Society initiative is toothless and could be used to allow ministers to wash their hands of responsibility for the impact of spending cuts, the Archbishop of Westminster has warned.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has been a supporter of the Prime Minister's call for an expansion of voluntary and community engagement.

But he said the philosophy still lacked substance and was at a "critical point" as people started to feel the pain of the severe squeeze on public service budgets.

"It is all very well to deliver speeches about the need for greater voluntary activity, but there needs to be some practical solutions," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

"At the moment the Big Society is lacking a cutting edge. It has no teeth."

"We're now at a very critical point, with the philosophy of the Big Society getting clearer, but on the other hand the effects of the cuts are becoming real and there's real pressure about what will happen on the ground."

The Government could not simply "cut expenditure, wash its hands of expenditure and expect that the slack will be taken up by greater voluntary activity", he said.

"Devolving greater power to local authorities should not be used as a cloak for masking central cuts.

"It is not sufficient for the Government, in its localism programme, simply to step back from social need and say this is a local issue."

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the Government was "up front about the need for cuts" and was ready to launch more "tools" such as the Big Society Bank and training 5,000 community organisers.

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