PM seeks to relaunch Big Society idea – again


Oliver Wright
Monday 23 May 2011 00:00 BST

David Cameron will attempt to relaunch his idea of the Big Society for the fourth time today, after a senior cabinet minister admitted that the Government had still "failed to articulate" what it stood for.

In a speech in Buckinghamshire, Mr Cameron will insist that creating the Big Society is the central mission of the Government alongside cutting the deficit. Ministers will announce that they have reached agreement with banks that will allow customers to give money to charity through cash machines for the first time. Every minister will also be instructed to undertake a day of volunteering work a year.

Members of Mr Cameron's Cabinet view his decision to make another high profile attempt to reinvigorate the idea of the Big Society with some bemusement. Senior Conservatives - including the Chancellor George Osborne - believe it to be a confusing concept which has failed to resonate with the public and should be quietly dropped.

But in his speech, which is intended to be a message to his party as much as to the public, Mr Cameron will make clear that, while he is Prime Minister, it will remain key to government policies.

"It's what I spoke about when I ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party, when I was elected, throughout all the years in opposition, during the election campaign and from the momentI first stood on the steps of Downing Street," he will say.

"It holds the key to transforming our economy, our society, our country's future and that's why I will keep on championing it and keep onbuilding it, every day that I lead this country. These are the things I'm most passionate about in public life. This is what is in my heart. It's what fires me up in the morning.

"The Big Society is not some fluffy add-on to more gritty and more important subjects. This is about as gritty and important as it gets - giving everyone the chance to get on in life and making our country a better place to live."

Mr Cameron will highlight specific policies of free schools, NHS reform and directly elected police commissioners as designed to put more power in the hands of local communities.

The Government will also unveil a new White Paper on giving which aims to encourage more local volunteering and charitable donations. This will include a new honours committee to recognise long-term philanthropists.But, in a sign that even those in Government who support the Big Society understand that it has still yet to gain traction with the electorate, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said more would be done to cement the message. "We may have failed to articulate it clearly, and we'll carry on explaining it as best we can," he said.

"I think people do understand what is meant when we explain it, and think that it's all a good idea. I haven't heard anyone say, 'Actually, these things that you're talking about aren't the right kind of society for us to have'."

But the Conservative vision will be challenged by the Opposition Leader Ed Miliband who, in a rival speech, will warn that government policies risk "sacrificing the next generation" through cuts to Sure Start, educational maintenance grants and the rise in tuition fees.

The Labour leader will warn that government policies risk creating a society where the next generation will not be able to buy property until they are 40. "I suppose every father says this, but becoming a parent changes your outlook on life," he will say.

"I am worried about what will happen to our children. David Cameron's claim to be protecting the next generation by making [cutting the deficit] his only priorityis blown apart because they are bearing so much of the burden for his decisions."

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