What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Despite being deemed “high risk”, the Big Lottery Fund awarded it £830,000

Share

Two months after the 2010 general election, David Cameron threw a reception in Downing Street to launch his “big idea” and the organisation that was to turn it into a reality.

Evoking the spirit of President Kennedy, the new Prime Minister asked the assembled guests to think what they could “do for their country” to create a Big Society and help the new Big Society Network deliver it.

But four years on, the Big Society Network is little more than a dormant, debt-ridden shell of a charity – and questions are being asked about whether the charitable proceeds of around three million £2 lottery tickets have been misused.

There are also concerns about whether Prime Ministerial patronage and Tory connections encouraged Britain’s largest lottery distributor to award a grant that was, at best, of questionable merit.

The story starts three months after the Downing Street reception when the Big Society Network was contacted by Big Lottery Fund. It asked if the Network would be interested in applying for funding.

As a result the charity submitted a bid for a project called “Your Square Mile” whose purpose was to encourage and enable local people to improve their community.

But despite assessing the application as “weak” in three out of the six criteria and judging the project “high risk”, the Big Lottery Fund awarded it £830,000.

It did not take long to unravel. By February 2012 the project had attracted just 64 signed-up groups – compared to the million predicted.

Next the Cabinet Office got its fingers burnt with the Network. In April 2012 it awarded a grant of £299,800 for the “Get In” project – to tackle childhood obesity  through sport.

So keen was the Cabinet Office to help that it changed its normal eligibility criteria to ensure that it fell within the rules. But “Get In” was also a flop.

Despite this track record the following year the Big Lottery Fund decided it was worth another grant.

It awarded it £997,960 in April 2013 for a project called “Britain’s Personal Best” which aimed to build on the Olympic Games by encouraging people to excel in athletic, educational or creative challenges.

Six months later, the Fund suspended payments because the Network was not making “sufficient progress against agreed targets”.

What makes the situation more concerning is the deep connections between the Network, David Cameron and the Conservative Party.

One of the Network’s trustees is Giles Gibbons – a former business partner of David Cameron’s “blue skies guru” Steve Hilton.  The chairman is Martyn Rose, who has worked with both Theresa May and Michael Gove, while the chief executive is Steve Moore who once worked  for the former chief whip Lord Young.

At the time of the second grant, the Big Lottery Fund was chaired by the former Tory MP Peter Ainsworth.

All this raises serious questions for the Big Lottery Fund, the Cabinet Office and the Tories. Overall £1.8m has been spent with no appreciable gain. Not all projects will succeed but the track record of the Network is lamentable. It needs to be investigated further.

READ MORE
The intensity of the adulation for Blair ought to concern Labour’s ‘new’ man
Text-driving has become as unacceptable as drink-driving
Don't censor the victims of Gaza and MH17

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Higher Level Teaching Assistants in Bradford and West Leeds

£65 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are currently seeking Higher L...

EYP

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Job opportunity for an Early years ...

QA Manual Tester - Agile

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Bursar/Business Manager

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Experienced bursar or business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Scottish polls, the clown who saved Iceland and all about oil

John Rentoul
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories