Lisa Nandy calls for urgent investigation into Big Society Network grants

The shadow civil society minister urges the Prime Minister to respond to the National Audit Office report that criticised the Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund over the management of more than £2m of funding

Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy

Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society, has called on the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to set up an urgent investigation into grants provided by the Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund to the Big Society Network

The National Audit Office this week criticised the Cabinet Office and the BLF for their management of more than £2m of funding awarded to the Big Society Network and the Society Network Foundation, its charitable arm.

The NAO found that the Cabinet Office broke its own guidelines in the awarding and management of almost £300,000 of funding to the Society Network Foundation, which was subsequently withdrawn because of poor performance, and criticised the BLF for its management of £1.8m of funding awarded to two projects run by the Big Society Network and the Society Network Foundation. 

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister today, Nandy says she hopes that Cameron was concerned to discover that "the Cabinet Office has wasted large sums of government funding questionable projects which ended in such failure".

Her letter says: "It is extraordinary that millions of pounds have been squandered, especially in this current climate, where funding is scarce and many charitable organisations are fighting for survival.

"I would urge you to set up an immediate investigation into how the Cabinet Office so clearly broke its own rules, and whether undue pressure was put on the BLF to award funding to the Big Society Network and the Society Network Foundation."

She also calls for an investigation into a claim made this week by Liam Black, a former trustee of Nesta, who said on Twitter this week that it was "forced" to provide funding to the Big Society Network. Nesta, which denied the claim, gave two grants totalling £480,000 to the Big Society Network and the Society Network Foundation in 2010.

Nandy asks the Prime Minister for an urgent response to questions including whether ministers put pressure on other organisations, including Nesta, to fund the Big Society Network, why the criteria for eligibility for one funding stream was changed by the Cabinet Office before the Society Network Foundation was given a grant and what steps the government is taking to "recover the £119,900 of taxpayers’ money it has wasted through the Get In project?"

In a statement, Nandy said the whole affair was "deeply concerning".

"Given that David Cameron launched the Big Society Network himself and given the connections between the organisations in question and the Conservative Party, there is an urgent need for further investigation," she said.

"Above all, this shows that the big society was a sham that did little for communities and diverted money away from charities that badly need it."

Nandy has also submitted some parliamentary questions on the matter.

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