The concept of the big society has a key place in Conservative politics as the necessary accompaniment to cuts to public spending and services, Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office has told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
Maude was speaking yesterday at the event Waging War on Waste: How to Cut Public Spending, organised by the campaign group the TaxPayers' Alliance.
"The phrase 'the big society' got mocked a lot, but the truth is it is the other side of the coin from the smaller state," he said. Maude said the big society meant some services being provided by the state, while larger emphasis was given to non-statutory service provision.
"This is where people do things in their communities, with their communities and for their communities," he said. "We need people getting on and doing things themselves, outside of the state."
Maude said the five principles underpinning his drive to cut public spending were openness and transparency, tight central control over spending, loose control over front-line operations, use of digital technology and innovation.
Conor Burns, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, said at the same event: "I think the big society already exists; I think we should be talking about the bigger society. This is about trusting communities."
Burns, who in June complained to the Charity Commission about what he saw as an overtly party political tweet from Oxfam, praised the role of charities in British society, giving the example of the family charity Home Start, which works in his constituency.
"There are so many people out there willing to give their time, expertise and resources," he said. "We would be at a loss in this country if it were not for the teeming dynamism of voluntary groups."
Burns said that, despite Maude's agenda and the party "talking the language of austerity", the government was still on course to spend more in real terms in the final year of the current term of government than it had done in year one.