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Big Society Bank

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011

2. What steps he plans to take to ensure that the big society bank has a social mission as part of its statutory remit. (42473)

In our social investment strategy, announced on 14 February, we set out that the big society bank will be an independent institution with a locked-in social mission and initial capital provided by the banks. Sir Ronald Cohen and Nick O’Donohoe are working with us and the banks to put forward a proposal on how best and most speedily to achieve that.

As how the big society bank will be set up and the terms on which it will receive capital from UK banks are still unclear, will the Minister explain how he will guarantee the bank’s social mission and ensure that it does not become like other mainstream lenders?

As I said, the social remit will be absolutely built into its mission; it is a crucial part of it, so it will be locked in. I have to say that criticism comes poorly from Labour Members who have talked about creating a social investment bank for many years. Frankly, on taking office last May, I expected to find well-prepared plans, but when I opened the file, I found it pretty much empty.

The Minister will know that I welcome the bank. What priorities will it have to fund projects associated with, and supporting, young people?

That will be one of the bank’s priorities. The legislation allowing the money from dormant bank and building society accounts to be put into a social investment bank provides a priority for youth projects. As I say, this will be a serious priority. The bank will be able to provide wholesale funds into the already growing social investment market, for which there is a huge demand. We want to see much more money—including, over time, mainstream finance from the mainstream banks—being made available for this market.

We welcome the progress the Government have made in setting up the big society bank, and we note that it will be launched with £300 million-worth of capital at the end of this year. However, community projects also rely on revenue funding to support capital investment and according to estimates from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the total loss of revenue faced by civil society organisations will be at least £1.14 billion in the next financial year, rising to £3.1 billion a year by 2014-15. Does the Minister accept these figures and, if not, will he undertake to provide the Government’s own estimates of the revenue losses faced by community organisations over that period?

The social investment bank planned by the last Government would have received a meagre £75 million of investment at best, and probably a great deal less than that.

I do not know whether the right hon. Lady noted what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told the conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations yesterday. He said that the Government had “reasonable expectations” that local authorities would not impose greater cuts in their funding for community, social and voluntary organisations than they imposed on their in-house services, and that if authorities did not follow those “reasonable expectations”, he would contemplate making them statutory.

The fact is that we face the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. As a result of the legacy of the Government of whom the right hon. Lady was a prominent member, we are spending £4 for every £3 in revenue, and we cannot carry on like that. The necessity—and it is a necessity—to eradicate the structural deficit is something for which the right hon. Lady should bear her full share of responsibility.