Cameron not for turning on plans for Big Society

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Indy Politics

David Cameron will today attempt to breathe new life into his cherished – and much-derided – mission to build a Big Society and promise to speak out every day in support of his pet political project. The Prime Minister will vow not to back down because of a "few bad headlines", insisting that volunteers and charities pulling together in local communities can rebuild Britain's "broken society".

He faces growing scepticism from within his own party about his personal credo, with ministers worrying that it is viewed by the public as a cover for spending cuts. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have conspicuously failed to defend the Big Society concept of "people power" taking over locally-run services.

The Government will make a series of announcements this week designed to put flesh on the bones of an idea that many Conservative MPs say is too abstract to explain on the doorstep.

Launching the publicity drive, Mr Cameron will link his political fortunes to the success of the project. "I'm not going to back down from what I believe in just because of a few bad headlines," he will say in a speech in London. "The Big Society is my mission in politics. It's what I want us – as a country – to build together and I'm going to fight for it every day, because the Big Society is here to stay."

Details will be announced this week of the planned recruitment over the next four years of a "neighbourhood army" of 5,000 community organisers to pioneer the Big Society concept.

Plans of how a £100m "transition fund" designed to help charities compete for government contracts will operate will be set out, along with proposals for a "Big Society bank" – supported by £200m from high street banks – to help get community schemes off the ground. Ministers will also announce moves to create "Big Society ISAs", in which cash is invested in social enterprises, and they are examining the creation of a "social stock exchange". But the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the whole strategy was being undermined by the spending cuts.

"No-one can volunteer at a library or a Sure Start centre if it's being closed down," he said in an article for The Independent on Sunday. Nor can this Conservative-led Government build a Big Society while simultaneously undermining its foundations with billions of pounds worth of cuts to the voluntary sector."

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also warned yesterday that investment in public services was needed if the concept was to succeed. "The Big Society, which is right, has got to build capacity and investment has got to go into it," he said.

Mr Cameron will today turn on his critics by asserting that the initiative is as important to Britain's social wellbeing as the austerity programme is to rebuilding the nation's financial health.

He will say: "I don't want the story of this government to be just an economic recovery. I want it to be a social recovery too. Because for all the action we've taken on pulling our economy from the brink, our society still hangs there. As I've said many times, our society is broken and we need to fix it – and the Big Society will help us do that."

He will say that too many people have stopped taking responsibility for their lives and for other people in their communities as a result of years of intrusive government. "The Big Society is how we'll fix our broken society, how we'll strengthen families, how we'll bring communities together. And the big question we have to ask ourselves is this – do we want a country where politicians, bureaucrats and the powers-that-be treat everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions and taking responsibility for their lives? Or do we want a country where we treat adults like adults, and give them more power and more responsibility over their lives? The Big Society is not a government initiative. It's about giving you the initiative – to take control of your life and work with friends, neighbours and colleagues to improve things around you."

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