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Big Society

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

The Government have an ambitious agenda for the big society. We want to decentralise power and put it in the hands of local communities. We want to open up public services to small and medium-sized enterprises, voluntary organisations and mutuals, and support the growth of civil society organisations.

The ministerial group, which is co-chaired by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and myself, is helping to drive forward this agenda and has already contributed to progressing our vanguard areas, the renewed compact, the right to provide for mutuals, and our giving Green Paper.

Hyndburn citizens advice bureau has seen a 50% cut in its funding and four job losses, and I think that it is a similar tale at Rossendale citizens advice bureau. I am waiting for its job losses, but it is expecting a 50% cut. The Minister should be mindful that his Government might leave the legacy of a little society. What warm words would he have for Rossendale and Hyndburn citizens advice bureaux?

We urgently hope that local authorities, as they deal with the financial consequences of the budget deficit that the Labour Government left behind—when the Government were spending £4 for every £3 in revenue, having to borrow £1 out of every £4—will ensure that a disproportionate burden of those reductions does not fall on the voluntary sector. That is a matter he should take up with the local council.

Have Ministers considered how to avoid duplication in the work of existing volunteer bureaux, often supported by local councils, and the new community organisers who are being recruited by the Government?

I would expect community organisers to work closely with those organisations and to ensure that there is no duplication of effort. These community organisers, many of whom already exist and do great work in communities, will not carry any kind of bureaucracy or organisational structure with them. Their job is to put people together, give support to organisations and make connections where they are not already being made.

This morning, figures showed that youth unemployment has rocketed up, and this afternoon we expect the Government to confirm that they will cancel the education maintenance allowance. Without work and without study, surely we need our youth charities more than ever before, yet the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services says that three quarters are now cutting projects. Just what have the Government got against young people, and why is there such a narrow place for young people in the Government’s vision of the big society?

I am pretty reluctant to take lectures on this from the right hon. Gentleman, because he will know, as a prominent member of the last Government, that when his Government left office there were many more young people out of work than when they took office.