Big Society Network chief hits back over 'gossip and innuendo'

Steve Moore denies allegations of cronyism, as shadow charities minister Gareth Thomas, pictured, tables parliamentary questions about the network's funding

Gareth Thomas MP
Gareth Thomas MP

Clarification. See final paragraph

Steve Moore, the chief executive of the Big Society Network, has claimed it is the victim of "gossip and innuendo" after suggestions were made that it attracted funding through favouritism and patronage.

Moore was speaking after shadow charities minister Gareth Thomas tabled written parliamentary questions asking for more information about the network’s funding.

Thomas said he was "trying to understand is whether this is essentially a political pet project that has been granted funds, or whether it has some serious output".

His questions follow suggestions that the Big Society Network, a not-for-profit support service for social organisations, has received special treatment from public funders.

The network has received several grants from public money since the start of 2011. Moore said it had received £500,000 from the Cabinet Office, £200,000 from the Social Action Fund, £1.8m for two projects from the Big Lottery Fund and £250,000 from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, which is now an independent charity but was previously a non-departmental public body.

The lottery awarded the network a grant through a ‘solicited bid’ process, where it asks for applications from individual organisations rather than holding an open competition. The Social Investment Business, which manages the Social Action Fund, said money was awarded after the criteria were changed during the application process by the Cabinet Office and the SIB. However, both organisations said the funding process was rigorous and transparent.

Thomas said: "If [the Big Society Network] has produced anything, it’s not clear what those outputs have been. At a time when charities are finding it difficult to raise funds, why has this organisation been the recipient of comparatively large sums of government money?"

Moore denied any allegations of cronyism. "As far as I can see, there’s a suggestion that we’ve received money improperly," Moore said. "But no one who knows me would think I’m some kind of political puppet.

"We’ve never had any suggestion from any of the organisations we’ve receiving funding from that we’ve spent money improperly. There’s been a lot of gossip and innuendo, but I’ve never seen a shred of evidence from anyone to suggest otherwise."

The Big Society Network filed its accounts with Companies House earlier this week, almost five months late, which showed a deficit of £180,000 on its balance sheet.

Despite its name, which suggests it was set up to support the flagship Conservative policy of the Big Society, the network is legally independent of government.

However, the network, which is not a charity, has previously been linked to the current administration. It was launched by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, when it was set up in 2010 and received £25,000 of support from civil servants in the Department for Communities and Local Government in its early days.

The Cabinet Office said it would respond to Thomas’s questions in parliament in early June.

The Big Lottery Fund says that it gave £830,000 to the Big Society Network in March 2011 for the Your Square Mile initiative, and £1m to the Society Network Foundation, the charitable arm of the Big Society Network, in May 2013 to run the Britain’s Personal Best event.

David Ainsworth

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