David Cameron's pledge to redirect money from the Futurebuilders fund into grants for neighbourhood groups is detailed in Big Society, Not Big Government, a Conservative policy document published today that has potentially wide implications for charities and the voluntary sector.
The neighbourhood grants would be provided in Britain's poorest areas, using the repayments of loans made under the Futurebuilders programme, which has stopped making new investments.
This money would also help to fund 5,000 ‘community organisers', the document says, who would provide support to community groups in areas such as management and finance.
The document pledges public service reform, including long-term incentives for social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups to deliver "innovative and high-quality public services".
It also says the Conservatives would empower communities to address local issues - building new schools, for example, or taking over and running local amenities such as parks and libraries.
It pledges to create a culture change that would support the work of neighbourhoods, charities and social enterprises - "a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation".
The document says the Conservatives would establish:
- A Big Society Bank, similar to the social investment wholesale bank promised by the Government, to channel "hundreds of millions of pounds" into social enterprises;
- National Centres for Community Organising that would train 5,000 independent community organisers to supply fundraising and community-building skills; and
- An annual ‘Big Society Day' to celebrate the work of neighbourhood groups and social action projects.
One of the functions of the Big Society Bank, the document says, would be to provide funds to intermediary bodies with a track record of supporting and growing social enterprises.
The civil service, it says, would be converted into the ‘civic service', where regular community service would be a key aspect of staff appraisals .
Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said it endorsed several of the key commitments in the NCVO manifesto. The Big Society Bank would be vital in generating finance for voluntary and community groups to deliver their services, he said.
Etherington said he hoped the Big Society Day would be a bank holiday and that civil servants would be given five days' paid leave for volunteering.
Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said: "Should the Conservatives be in government come May, we hope they will work closely with us to make this a reality.
"In particular, we welcome their commitment to transforming our public services by opening them up to third sector providers, and their promise to use unclaimed assets to make this possible through the creation of a social investment bank."