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Big Society Bank

Volume 529: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2011

I am delighted to say that we are making extremely good progress in establishing the big society bank. Sir Ronald Cohen and Nick O’Donohoe, with whom I met recently, have put an outline of the proposals on the website. They are now working with the actuary and the administrators of the dormant accounts. So as not to waste time while we wait for state aid clearance, we have also established a high calibre interim investment committee in the Big Lottery Fund to begin work immediately.

I thank the Minister for that response. What safeguards will be in place so that when small charities seek to access funds from intermediaries they will be making worthwhile investments and not causing themselves to fall into significant debt?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. It is tremendously important that the voluntary and charitable sector does not get into a debt spiral, and for that reason the big society bank’s plans involve trying to promote patient capital and risk capital that will allow the voluntary and community sector to expand without becoming over-geared and being put in financial peril.

Does the Minister agree that the big society bank will provide the vital backing required by investors in our social sector organisations, so that they can continue to support local groups dedicated to making communities better places to work and live?

Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely important to point out that the purpose of the big society bank, under Sir Ronald Cohen’s direction, is to go beyond the traditional sources of finance and persuade, for example, large charities that have considerable investments to start to reinvest in the voluntary and community sector so that they can get good returns on, for example, social impact bonds.

That very much depends, of course, on the state aid process, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know from his own experience, we cannot totally determine. In order not to waste time, however, the investment committee that has been set up within the Big Lottery Fund will begin to disburse funds from dormant accounts as soon as they are made available and released. I hope that that will happen within a few months.

At a recent meeting of the Public Administration Committee, Sir Ronald Cohen said that the big society bank might have to change its name because it is not a bank. Will the Minister enlighten us? If it is not a bank, what is it?

The hon. Gentleman’s question reminds me of Maynard Keynes’s dictum when asked about the IMF and the World Bank. I think he said that the World Bank was a kind of fund, and the IMF was a kind of bank. There are often these oddities in the naming of things. Shall we just call it the BSB and know what it does, rather than worry about the name?