'No need' for a big society minister, umbrella bodies insist

Ralph Michell of Acevo says Prime Minister and Treasury should promote the big society agenda

Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo
Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo

Voluntary sector groups have questioned the recommendation by a group of MPs that the government should appoint a big society minister.

The idea was one of the two main recommendations in the final report by the Public Administration Select Committee, published today, on its inquiry into the big society agenda.

It said the government should "create a single big society minister, who has a cross-cutting brief to help other ministers to drive through this agenda".

Ralph Michell, head of policy at the chief executives body Acevo, said he agreed with the MPs that government departments needed to be held responsible for acting in line with the big society agenda, which involves making it easier for charities to deliver public services and devolving power from Whitehall to communities.

However, he said that a big society minister was not the right way to do this. "The big society is currently everyone’s job and no one’s responsibility," he said. "The way to get all departments to take something seriously is not to create a minister for it, but to have the Prime Minister and the Treasury drive it forward."

A spokesman for the local infrastructure group Navca said he did not think a big society minister was necessary. "We think it would be more sensible to strengthen the role of the existing civil society minister," he said. "The PASC report talks about confusion around the big society agenda, and having an additional government minister might add to that confusion."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the report highlighted the "unintended consequences of the government’s public service reform agenda" by showing that small, local providers were being "driven out" of the Work Programme, the government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme. "In tough times, the government must make it easier and not harder to gain access to these new opportunities," he said.

Gareth Thomas, the shadow civil society minister, said the PASC report was "devastating" and "confirmed that ministers are out of touch with the problems charities and community groups up and down the UK are facing".

The Cabinet Office issued a statement that said: "This government is making it easier for people to do more: giving people power to improve public services, putting communities in control and supporting people to help others. A huge amount has already been achieved."

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