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Big Society Ministerial Group

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011

The informal ministerial group on the big society and decentralisation supports progress across government on cross-cutting issues, such as the role of the voluntary community and social enterprise sector in public service delivery, the progress made in vanguard areas and the compact between the voluntary sector and the state.

Order. The House must come to order. This is very unfair on the Minister. He is offering the House an informative answer and it must be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I also thank the Minister for his answer. Given that opinion polls show that the majority of the British people have not even heard of the big society and that the majority of those who have think it is just a cover-up for the cuts, does the Minister believe that the work of the ministerial group has been a resounding success? Does he not believe that Ministers’ time would be better spent doing credible work in their own Departments?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not think that building a bigger, stronger and more cohesive society is worth while, particularly given that the role of the state is having to retrench severely as a result of the financial incontinence of the previous Government of the party that he supports. I am sorry to have to remind him that when the coalition Government took office his Government were spending £4 for every £3 in revenue and had the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. So less money is available and building a bigger, stronger society, which I would have thought he would support, is a very worthwhile exercise for not only the whole Government, but the whole of Parliament.

Will the ministerial group examine the role of the big society bank to see whether it can be run on national credit union lines, so that it can link up with local credit unions and ensure that the money cascades down to community groups at the grass-roots level?

The social investment market has been growing in recent years but it needs additional wholesale funds, both from the big society bank and from freeing up the guidelines on investment by trustees of big philanthropic foundations. That will grow the social investment market significantly, and the credit union movement, which is extraordinarily important and has a very important social mission, can be an important partner in that progress.

Will the Minister or the “Secretary of State for the big society” have a quiet word with Wirral borough council, which has closed important care and respite homes too quickly in order to let the non-government sector fill the gap? That is giving the big society a bad name.

I refer the hon. Lady to the remarks made by the Communities Secretary yesterday. We do believe in localism; we believe in local authorities being accountable, not to Whitehall, but to their own local residents. Each local authority has to justify its decisions but, as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, we have expectations that local authorities will not impose greater cuts on their funding for voluntary organisations than they do on their own costs. We would expect them to have regard to that.