The Cabinet Office is attempting to encourage more commissioning of services from small, local voluntary groups, according to Ian Watmore, the department’s permanent secretary.
Watmore appeared before MPs at a Public Administration Select Committee hearing yesterday to discuss the Cabinet Office’s business plan.
At the hearing, Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, asked Watmore how he could address the concern that the government’s big society agenda would benefit "the big Tesco charities" and would not support smaller, local charities.
"What we are trying to do is promote the idea of commissioning smaller, more local services, which should allow smaller voluntary sector entities to bid," said Watmore.
He said government departments should assess the impact of their policies on the big society and localism agendas, but should not be compelled to carry out formal impact assessment procedures on this, an idea proposed by Halfon at the hearing.
"I understand why you say it, and it’s a sensible idea," Watmore told Halfon. "But the issue comes back to the number of impact assessments that have to be filled in, which some see as a bureaucratic burden.
"I think there is benefit in trying to apply the test to every policy of whether it is complying with the government’s policies on localism and the big society and to ask whether a new policy will enable or hinder these agendas," he said.
Watmore said he did not support the suggestion in the committee’s report on the big society, published in December, that there should be an individual minister responsible for making sure all government departments acted in accordance with the aims of the big society agenda.
"I think the issue with the big society is that it is a whole-of-government policy and the Prime Minister has personally put himself at the front," Watmore said. "It’s not for an individual department to drive it, but it has to go through a whole cascade of government policies."