David Cameron's mission to promote a Big Society was dismissed as mere rhetoric yesterday after a charity that appeared to encompass all of its values lost vital funding.
TimeBank, which puts volunteers in touch with projects where their skills are needed, said it was mystified and devastated to be refused a grant and could be forced to close as a result.
Just months ago, Civil Society minister Nick Hurd – who leads the Government's Big Society agenda – was full of praise for the organisation. After speaking at an event in December, he wrote on Twitter: "Happy 10th anniversary to TimeBank! Good event trying to counter cynicism on Big Society." But yesterday the charity's chief executive Helen Walker revealed that its latest funding application as a strategic partner of the Office of Civil Society had been refused. The £500,000 grant represents a quarter of its income and will mean drastic cuts among its 35 staff, a scaling down of its workload and potentially closure.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: "TimeBank is exactly what the Big Society should be about – helping people to volunteer and build the change that they want to see in their communities. It is impossible to see how the Tory-led Government can make speeches about the Big Society one day, yet make this decision on another.
"There is a growing hole in David Cameron's Big Society narrative – the gap between rhetoric and reality."
Ms Walker said she was extremely disappointed that the charity had failed to even get past the first stage of the funding process.
"This decision will hugely undermine the Government's vision for a Big Society," she added. "For the past decade we have made an important contribution to mobilising an army of 300,000 volunteers and to improving the quality of volunteering across the board.
"Without this vital core funding we will not be able to continue to deliver the level of service that we have based our reputation on and will have to considerably reduce our activities and staff as a result. We will be mounting an appeal against this decision and will be creating a petition to save the charity in due course."
Yesterday a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "TimeBank was given six months notice, which is ample time to plan for the future."