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Big Society

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2012

3. How many big society projects were under way in the most recent period for which figures are available. (94023)

Our big society agenda involves putting power into the hands of individuals and communities, and it is emphatically not a programme driven from the centre of Government. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that there is not an army of bureaucrats going around counting big society projects; that would entirely defeat the purpose.

I am grateful to the Minister for telling me that he has no idea—I appreciate that.

Big society projects have been one of the many successes of this Conservative-led Government. In my constituency we have the Hope project, led by the superb Simon Trundle, which is transforming one of the most deprived areas in the constituency. However, it is experiencing problems as local funding is cut, and it may even have to be closed. How can the big society initiative help it to obtain more funds?

I am aware of the Hope project, which is to be greatly commended, and I am happy to be able to say to my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister for civil society, will meet him to discuss this. I have a terrible feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) might even succeed, because I did some research and discovered that he managed to get community first funding for two of the wards in his constituency. I wish him luck in this endeavour, too.

Patrick Butler said in The Guardian recently:

“For many in the charity world, the Big Society…has become a toxic sign of Government hypocrisy, broken promises and ineptitude”.

What are the Government doing to change that?

I hope the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will help me to do so, because distinguished members of his party totally back the big society, including the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), who tells him and his colleagues:

“We should be for the Big Society.”

I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in putting across the idea that we should welcome the giving back of power to communities and individuals to change their own lives for the better.

One of the ways the big society will succeed is through the dissemination of successful projects, for which the big society awards were intended to be one of the vehicles. What progress has been made with the awards?

I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the big society awards are alive and well and happening, with successive tranches of people coming in to get them. The Prime Minister is hugely devoted to this. It is important to recognise what communities and community groups are doing the length and breadth of the land.

The Minister is a keen follower of my website, so he will know that I support initiatives to build social capital in communities. When I visit voluntary groups, I am very struck by the extent to which they have benefited from the future jobs fund. From a big society point of view, was it not a mistake, therefore, to abolish that fund?

I am indeed an avid follower of the hon. Gentleman’s website, and a most interesting document it is, too. The fact is that, alas, the future jobs fund offered only a very temporary fix. By contrast, we are trying to create a framework within which the voluntary community sector has long-term prospects that it can build on through achievement and by providing the taxpayer with value for money.