A Conservative government would shut down the Futurebuilders programme in its present form and use income from its loan book to fund 5,000 ‘community organisers' and give grants to neighbourhood groups, Tory leader David Cameron has announced.
Speaking today at the launch of a new Conservative manifesto setting out a range of ideas for what he calls the "big society", Cameron said his government would divert income from the Futurebuilders programme to fund a "neighbourhood army" of 5,000 organisers who would help community groups to raise funds and meet social challenges.
The document, called Big Society, Not Big Government, also promises a Big Society Bank funded from unclaimed assets, similar to the social investment wholesale bank promised by the Government in the recent Budget. It would provide "hundreds of millions of pounds" for social enterprise, the document says.
"We will use revenue from the Cabinet Office Futurebuilders programme, a programme the National Audit Office has criticised for its poor delivery, and redirect it to training thousands of new community organisers in the years ahead," said Cameron.
Nick Hurd, the shadow third sector minister, told Third Sector that the Futurebuilders programme had served a useful purpose in proving that the sector could access loan capital. But he said any future lending to the third sector should be carried out through the Big Society Bank.
"We don't know how much money will be put into this because we don't know the size of the unclaimed assets pot," he said. "But we expect to be more ambitious than the Labour government."
He said the Futurebuilders programme was already closed to new applications, and as capital was returned it would be channelled into the community programme.
Jonathan Lewis, chief executive of the Social Investment Business, which manages Futurebuilders, said that he disagreed with Cameron's plan, and felt that Futurebuilders should be left to reinvest cash as it is repaid.
"Just today, an independent and detailed piece of research has been published by Sheffield Hallam University which has shown that Futurebuilders has been an incredible success," he said.
"The report has made it clear that we haven't displaced other players in the marketplace, we've provided additional funding, and we've brought in other capital which otherwise wouldn't have come into the sector.
"Why on earth would you pull the plug on something that has worked so well?"