Community groups meet to discuss opposition to big society

More than 30 organisations aired their concerns at the Community Sector Coalition meeting and made plans to tackle the "sham" of the big society initiative

Matthew Scott, director of the Community Sector Coalition
Matthew Scott, director of the Community Sector Coalition

Community organisations could begin a campaign against the government's big society programme amid widespread sceptism about the initiative.

Representatives of more than 30 community sector organisations discussed the programme at an event organised by the Community Sector Coalition in London yesterday.

Many aired concerns that the big society was little more than a front for cuts and an attempt to undermine existing community organisations.

Among the ideas mooted were campaigns "to expose the big society as a sham" and to oppose cuts.

Matthew Scott, director of the coalition, whose members include local infrastructure group Navca and Community Matters, said members would decide a course of action in the next few weeks.

But many delegates spoke in favour of campaigning to actively oppose the big society.

Nick Beddow, chief executive of the Community Development Exchange, said the programme was less about a big society and more about creating a smaller state and was insulting to existing community groups because it suggested they had failed.

"The people who have never seen what we do or been near it are now the experts," he said. "I'm not prepared to accept that."

Andrew Climo, director of Community Leaders, described the forthcoming Big Society Bank as a "noxious, toxic idea".

"The government likes to thrust debt at charities like it does students. What frontline groups want is small amounts of money so they can carry on," he said.

The Office for Civil Society's plan to create 5,000 community organisers generated criticism, particularly in regard to how they will work alongside people already fulfilling such roles.

Andy Benson, joint convenor of the National Coalition for Independent Action, urged voluntary organisations to ignore the big society programme and not to allow themselves to be sucked into ministers' initiatives.

"We don't need to look to their languages or objectives to justify what we do with our communities," he said.

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