The big society ministerial committee, a group of government ministers set up to lead the government’s work on the big society agenda and coordinate departments’ policies on the voluntary sector, has not met for almost 10 months.
The committee was launched in July 2010, soon after the coalition government came to power, and was chaired jointly by the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, and the communities secretary, Eric Pickles.
An Office for Civil Society spokesman said at the time that all secretaries of state whose roles affected the voluntary sector had been asked to appoint a minister in their department who would be responsible for implementing the big society agenda. These ministers would form the cross-government committee, he said.
But in response to a parliamentary question this week from the shadow charities minister, Gareth Thomas, the civil society minister, Nick Hurd, said the committee had met three times since it was formed and its most recent meeting was in March 2011.
When the committee was first formed, Hurd told delegates at a conference in London that one of its priorities would be to make sure the Compact – the conduct agreement between the public and voluntary sectors – was observed across Whitehall.
In March 2011, Maude told the House of Commons that the ministerial group "supports progress across government on cross-cutting issues, such as the role of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in public service delivery, the progress made in vanguard areas and the compact between the voluntary sector and the state".
Thomas told Third Sector: "I am astonished that the committee hasn’t met since March. It suggests the big society is not being taken seriously by the government and is not a priority for ministers."
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the committee had not been disbanded. The department issued a statement that said: "The big society agenda has moved beyond its initial stages of development. Big society policy is developed through a number of different channels, including frequent ministerial meetings and regular meetings with senior officials across government, whilst formal coordination continues through the standard channels of the cabinet committee structure."