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Big Society 'needs own minister'

Prime Minister David Cameron's Big Society policy is doomed to failure unless a dedicated minister is appointed to help end confusion and get smaller charities involved, MPs have warned.

A Public Administration Select Committee report said the Government had failed to explain the project properly or remove serious barriers to its success. Its chairman, senior Conservative Bernard Jenkin, predicted that without a "comprehensive and coherent change programme" in Whitehall, reforms would be "defeated by inertia".

Eighteen months after the coalition came to power promising a revolution in the role of charity and community provision of services there was still "public confusion", the committee found.

It said: "Without a coherent plan, the Government has so far been unable to communicate effectively to the public what the Big Society project means in terms of practical policies." That had led to an impression the entire policy was "made solely on the basis of anecdotes or single examples" which should be countered by a clear statement of intent.

Worse, many of the groups supposed to be leading the drive were equally confused and had "serious reservations" about the way the policy was being implemented, the report concluded.

The process of contracting the provision of public services remained skewed in favour of larger, more commercial providers with established tendering skills.

That was, according to the report, because small groups did not fit the "siloed mentality of Whitehall departments" which risked private firms dominating the provision of services - and the failure of the Big Society.

Many were also at risk of being killed off altogether by public spending cuts, the MPs said, with the Big Society Capital Project, though welcome, coming too late to address the "funding gap".

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "A huge amount has already been achieved, led by Nick Hurd, our Office for Civil Society Minister, over the last 18 months. Programmes such as community organisers, Community First and National Citizen Service will help stimulate more social action by bringing people together in the communities they live in to solve problems and make the most of opportunities and assets.

"And there is a clear plan of how Government will support this. The Localism Bill gives power back to local communities, while the open public services white paper will empower individuals by giving them choice over services and empower neighbourhoods to take greater control over local services. In addition the Cabinet Office business plan sets out a clear set of objectives for the Office for Civil Society."


From Belfast Telegraph