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Big Society

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

We have given communities more power through the Localism Act 2011. We have invested in volunteering, which has risen after years of decline. We have invested to support charitable giving, which has held up in difficult times. Some 70,000 young people have taken part in the National Citizen Service. I am very proud that this country leads the world in supporting social enterprise and investment.

That is not a situation I recognise in Hyndburn, I have to say. Archbishop Vincent Nichols recently said:

“The Big Society hasn’t helped… Charity isn’t an alternative to public service… there are now families with nothing”.

Will the Minister finally admit that the big society project is in fact a big failure?

No, I will not. I think the cynics have got it entirely wrong. Some of the changes we have introduced are irreversible, not least in terms of giving communities more power and information, which they are not going to give back. We recognise that charities are going through a very difficult time, like lots of organisations, but this Government are actively supporting them to help them to adapt and improve their resilience, while Labour MPs continue to scaremonger.

I thank my hon. Friend for her long-standing support for the National Citizen Service and all initiatives to encourage young people to get involved in volunteering. We are enormously ambitious for the National Citizen Service this year. As I have said, to date over 70,000 young people have taken part, and we expect the same number to take part this year alone.

Will the Minister explain why the newly announced £40 million fund to help struggling charities will only come into force in 2015? Many charities are saying that they will not survive another six months because of this Government’s policies. Is this not a case of too little, too late?

No, I do not accept that. The hon. Lady ignores the fact that the Government have already provided almost £200 million in transition funding for front-line charities and infrastructure organisations to help them through difficult times. We have managed to secure some additional money in the 2015-16 Budget to support more transition work, particularly for middle-sized charities, which we think is needed. She is ignoring all the help we have given so far.

Our country once enjoyed a rich and vibrant tapestry of organisations between charity and the state, such as co-operatives, friendly societies and other mutuals. Does the Minister share my dismay that the left has abandoned its own traditions?

Those are not of course the only traditions that the left has abandoned over the years; it is very hard to see what is left. I am very proud that Government Members are leading the work to encourage more mutualisation, particularly in relation to encouraging people to spin out the services they currently offer inside the public sector, and to offer them and improve them as public sector mutuals.