NAO scrutiny of Big Society Network funding enters final stages

NAO scrutiny of Big Society Network funding enters final stages
Civil Society Finance, By Tania Mason

The National Audit Office has almost finished looking into concerns raised by Gareth Thomas MP about public funding of the Big Society Network.

The NAO’s comptroller and auditor general Amyas Morse (pictured) wrote to Thomas, the former shadow minister for civil society, last week to update him on the investigation, and promised to write again in March with the outcome of its work.

Morse said that the NAO had now been provided with updates from the Big Lottery Fund on the Your Square Mile and Britain’s Personal Best projects which were run by Big Society Network, “and we have updated our findings to reflect the latest position”.

He said: “We have presented our findings and key messages to the Big Lottery Fund and the Cabinet Office to allow them to confirm the accuracy of these messages and to comment on lessons learned.

“The three grant recipients will also get the opportunity shortly to see and to comment on the parts of this work that relate to them.

“This is the final stage of the process and helps ensure that our response to your concerns will be factually accurate and a fair representation of events and decisions taken by all concerned.”

Thomas asked the NAO last summer to look into the circumstances under which funding was provided to Big Society Network after an investigation by revealed that more than £3m had been awarded to the organisation by the government and the Big Lottery Fund, but none of it had ever appeared in any published accounts.

And few social outcomes seemed to have been achieved for the funding provided.

The criteria for one Cabinet Office fund – the Social Action Fund – was widened so that Big Society Network could qualify, and most of the funding was awarded via solicited bids so that the organisation did not have to compete for the money against other bodies.

Thomas was also concerned about evidence that Big Society Network executives attended a meeting at 10 Downing St shortly before being awarded the Social Action Fund grant.

He accused the coalition government of “wasting money on Big Society vanity projects”.

Yesterday revealed that as well as spending almost three-quarters of the £199,900 Social Action Fund grant on a project that never launched, the organisation used most of the rest of the grant to reduce its historical deficit, in contravention of the terms of the grant.