Big society in need of a 'radical review', says think tank

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange, says the government's bias towards the private sector is killing the idea while charities are left in the cold

Caroline Slocock

The government’s big society project is in need of a "radical review" to prevent millions of the most vulnerable being left behind, according to a new report.

The Big Society Audit 2013, published today by the think tank Civil Exchange, says funding for charities that support disadvantaged groups has been the most affected since the coalition came to power.

It says that charities are being left out of service delivery and calls for a new model that draws on the strengths of the voluntary sector and volunteers.

The report warns that many public services now lie in the hands of "a virtual monopoly of unaccountable ‘mega-corporations’ ", such as Serco and G4S, despite government promises to diversify and make public services more accountable and responsive.

The audit highlights positive progress on the big society initiative, including a rise in the level of volunteering and significant growth in communities taking control of local amenities, with 100 pubs listed as community assets, 425 community libraries and 303 community shops.

Caroline Slocock, director of Civil Exchange and principal author of the report, said: "Millions of people – especially those who might need it most – are being excluded from the big society, as the cuts hit them hardest.

"It is government’s bias towards the private sector that is killing the idea of the big society, while the charities to which people in need turn are left out in the cold. It’s time for politicians to match actions to words.

"A good start would be to value the not-for-profit experts who have the know-how to help them tackle complex and costly social problems and the capacity to deliver public services on a human scale."

The audit is the second produced by the think tank and focuses on three areas the government said were key to delivering its big society vision: community empowerment, opening up public services and social action.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "Building the big society is about putting individuals and groups in control of local decisions. The report recognises this has been a growing success with more communities taking control of local assets and an increase in people volunteering.

"We are determined to ensure as much money as possible goes to the front line and are investing about £470m over the spending review period to directly support charities and voluntary groups.

"We are at the start of ambitious reforms to open up more public sector opportunities to charities with new legislation, financial solutions and programmes to involve the charities in reducing unemployment and rehabilitation."

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