David Cameron will relaunch his big idea, the Big Society, in a keynote speech on Monday amid growing fears in the Conservative Party that it has started to backfire on the Government.
As local authorities and voluntary groups feel the impact of the spending cuts, some ministers are worried that the Big Society will be seen by the public as an attempt to mask the cuts and hand state-financed services to private firms.
But the Prime Minister will come out fighting on Monday when he addresses the Big Society Network, an independently funded group working with the Government. He will reject calls to abandon what is his personal credo. A series of Big Society measures will be unveiled by the Government next week in an attempt to show that it has not run out of steam.
Mr Cameron’s aides deny that the moves amount to a relaunch, describing them as a “restatement” of the policy. Mr Cameron is frustrated that the Big Society is seen as merely about boosting the role of voluntary groups and will point out that many of them do not rely on state handouts.
He will spell out how his big theme runs right through his Government’s key reforms – such as allowing parents, teachers and charities to set up “free schools”, giving patients more power over where they are treated and allowing charities to take over vital roles such as drug rehabilitation work.
One Cameron ally said yesterday: “We are in a transitional stage because budgets are being squeezed. The Big Society was never about throwing money at voluntary groups, as it is being caricatured. We knew it would not transform everything overnight. It’s a long game.”
Mr Cameron will explain how 5,000 trained community organisers will help his big idea take off in less well-off areas. The Government plans to invest £470m over the next four years and its Big Society Bank will have an initial budget of £200m.
The Prime Minister will try to regain the initiative after Dame Elizabeth Hoodless, executive director of Community Service Volunteers, warned that the Big Society scheme was being undermined by “draconian” spending cuts.
Ministers are worried that the project will face fresh criticism over the next few weeks as local authorities announce cuts when they finalise their budgets for the financial year starting in April.
Yesterday Birmingham City Council, which is run by a Conservative-Liberal coalition, said it would axe more than 7,000 jobs to meet a “gargantuan challenge” to find savings of £300m over the next three years. A total of 4,300 posts will be cut and 3,000 more would be transferred into a schools co-operative.
Birmingham is the UK’s largest local authority and has 18,993 full-time staff posts. Roger McKenzie, assistant general secretary of Unison, said: “It’s not just devastating news for people losing their jobs, but for the people of Birmingham. This is 7,000 people thrown into three to four years of uncertainty. Uncertain how they are going to pay their mortgage, their rent or put food on the table.”
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