Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ in crisis

Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ in crisis

David Maddox, The Scotsman


SENIOR government figures are planning a relaunch of David Cameron’s Big Society vision amid concerns that the project is in crisis, Scotland on Sunday has learned.


The Big Society concept was launched with the Tory manifesto in April during the election campaign and was meant to represent Cameron’s new philosophy on how the country should work by encouraging people to take a more active role in their communities.


However, despite the subsequent launch of the Big Society Network – a non-governmental body which aims to encourage the private and charitable sectors to invest in local communities – at a Downing Street reception in July and regular references to it by the Prime Minister in government, the concept has failed to take off.


Scotland on Sunday has been told that concerns came to a head last month when two of the Prime Minister’s closest advisers on the project met. 


Conservative sources said a discussion took place between Phillip Blond, director of the Res Publica thinktank, and the Prime Minister’s ideas man in Downing Street, Steve Hilton. 


Many ideas for the Big Society, such as mutual networks of volunteers linked by technology and community buyouts, came from Blond’s Red Tory book, which insisted there was a growing desire in communities to run local services. 


However, it is understood that both Blond and Hilton agreed at the meeting that the Big Society project was in serious difficulties. In particular, the two are believed to be critical of the Big Society Network co-founded by a Tory peer, Lord Nat Wei, and its chief executive Paul Twivy, a marketing guru, who is its only paid employee. A nationwide tour of town halls was scrapped in October after the first meeting was interrupted by hecklers attacking the coalition’s public sector cuts programme.


A Conservative source said: "Blond and Hilton and other senior government figures are concerned that the Big Society Network has no message. It’s just invisible and it appears to be doing nothing."


Whitehall sources said Cameron’s advisers are looking at a relaunch. One said: "It won’t be branded as a relaunch because that would be an admission of failure, but it cannot be allowed to fail because it was central to Cameron’s manifesto."


The Big Society Network has no press contact or other contact numbers. A spokesman for Blond and the ResPublica thinktank said: "We never comment on private discussions with the government. ResPublica and Phillip Blond are completely behind the Big Society project and look forward to its development over the coming months."