David Cameron’s Big Society seems to involve local communities getting together to organise services and facilities themselves.
How this is in any way different from the voluntary sector, in which many of us have given our time over the years, is not clear. Indeed much of Cameron’s so called vision is decidedly opaque to most people.
Even a member of Cameron’s own government, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and Children’s Minister, is having trouble with the concept. He told an audience at the charity Community Services Volunteers (CSV) that “most people” do not know what the Big Society means, “let alone the unfortunate ministers who have to articulate it”.
And charities in Scotland, many facing funding cuts, are extremely sceptical about the while idea.
A survey carried out by Lasa, a charity that offers welfare rights and technological support to the third sector, asked over 400 charity workers for their views. The vast majority, 88%, believe that smaller charities and umbrella organisations will lose financial support because of the Tory agenda.
Terry Stokes, chief executive of Lasa, said the poll revealed the “extreme frustration” felt in the sector. He added, “Charities don’t run on thin air. The Big Society dream cannot be achieved by the Coalition Government if support organisations have their funds taken away.”
Already this week we have seen Citizens’ Advice Bureaux in Ayrshire threatened with closure because of funding cuts. In financial year 2009/10, Scottish CABs collectively helped clients with 545,715 new issues, about 1500 every day of the year. Quite where people will get the help and support they require if CABs close is anyone’s guess.
Many organisations are anxiously waiting for word from the Scottish Government on grants for the next financial year. And that’s only just over three months away. Services are under threat, staff are left wondering whether jobs will go and the climate of uncertainty makes forward planning impossible.
I am a Director of two national charities, and both have been told informally to expect cuts to grant budgets; news that was hardly unexpected. But until the exact grant figures are known we are left in limbo.
Cameron’s cuts mean a reduced budget for the Scottish Government. Now that Ministers are aware of exactly how much cash they will have it is up to them to prepare their own budget.
And many in the voluntary sector are waiting to see exactly what that will mean for the vital services they provide.