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Bexley charity bosses blast Cameron's "Big Society"

PUBLISHED: 13:18 13 August 2010 | UPDATED: 12:22 16 August 2010

Charity bosses have blasted David Cameron's brainchild The Big Society, which will see power devolved from the public sector to charities and voluntary groups.

A long-held dream of the Prime Minister, the idea of the Big Society is to give charities and community groups more power to run services like libraries and museums and give local people power over planning decisions. Announcing the scheme in Liverpool last Monday, Mr Cameron hailed the scheme as ‘the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street’.

But, Stephen Brooks, information and development officer at Mind, a charity that helps people with mental health issues, in Broadway, Bexley, said: “I don’t particularly like the idea. How much of the money currently allocated for these services will flow through to the voluntary sector? Because funding and the time to build up the capacity to deal with the extra workload are absolutely essential. The more I read about it, the less hopeful I am that it’s going to work. My concern is that if volunteers are taking up some of these vital services, how will there be any democratic control? Who will deal with quality assurance? Who will be responsible? It’s a bit like the changes they have announced in the health service, scrapping the PCTs. They’ve got this Big Society, but they have not thought about the details. They have not got down to the nitty gritty of how it’s going to work. But they will have to think about it at some stage.

“I don’t understand how they expect all this to happen without shelling out any more money. It can’t be achieved on people’s good will alone.”

Unions and the Labour party have dubbed the scheme ‘the Big Con’, claiming it is a way of masking spending cuts by offloading the help that used to be provided by the government onto voluntary groups.

John Burden has worked for Age Concern, which has branches throughout Bexley, for 23 years and was not impressed by the Prime Minister’s Big Society plan and said they would need extra funding if their workload is to increase.

Mr Burden, said: “If they want to increase our powers and give us that extra responsibility, they would need to give us the financial support to do that. The harsh reality is that we are having to reshape because we are receiving less financial help from local government and now they are asking us to increase the service we are delivering. The government can’t get everything for free.”

Dartford’s Tory MP Gareth Johnson suggested the Big Society would ‘empower people’, adding: “It is about moving power from the government to local communities so people can have a greater say over the issues that affect their lives. For too long it has been thought that government knows best and government can provide services better than anyone else, when really it’s local groups that know best. Charities work extremely hard, but this is about empowering them so they can take on roles that they have previously been denied.”

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