A letter from Acevo chief executive Sir Stephen Bubb to the Prime Minister in which he describes the Big Society as “effectively dead” and accuses the government of sidelining charities, secured the front page lead in today’s Times as well as an interview on the Today programme.
The letter was timed to coincide with the update due to be issued by David Cameron and Nick Clegg today as to the coalition government’s priorities for the second half of this parliament. It accuses the coalition of breaking its early promises to ensure that charities are at the heart of public service reforms and says the sector’s important role in creating jobs and economic growth has been largely ignored.
“The Big Society is a strong concept,” Sir Stephen wrote, “even if Whitehall has struggled to communicate it or implement it consistently – but now the phrase is effectively dead.”
Sir Stephen claimed that charity leaders feel “frustrated and demoralised” by their inability to play a bigger role in providing services such as health and education. Reforms in social care and offender rehabilitation are “glacially slow” and in the Work Programme the “reality is divorced from the rhetoric”, he wrote.
“The reality many charities now face is crippling spending cuts: half of local councils admit making disproportionate cuts to charities in spite of government guidance to the contrary. Most Acevo members whose funding is being cut have had to respond by reducing the services they provide.”
He also said: “It is hard for those charity leaders to escape the feeling that when it comes to promoting the potential of charities in this country, a government once sincerely full of ambition, vision and urgency has lost its way, and now lacks a clear narrative on the role of charities in the economy and society.”
'Coalition must reaffirm commitment to charities'
Sir Stephen urged the PM to use today’s ‘coalition update’ to reaffirm the government’s commitment to supporting charitable activity by supporting payroll giving and reintroducing match funding, or by agreeing to the swift repayment of the Olympics raid on the Big Lottery Fund. Another suggestion was “substantial action to incentivise social investment”.
He also called for new ambition reforming public service reform; a commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and incentives for charities to create jobs and economic growth.
The letter concluded: “A reaffirmation of some of the principles and vision that so clearly animated the coalition in its early days would send a clear signal, and lay solid foundations for successful partnership between government and the charity sector over the second half of the parliament.”
Coverage of the coalition update trailed in today’s newspapers suggested it would contain an announcement of new measures making it easier for people to volunteer, to capitalise on the public-spiritness generated by the Olympics and Paralympics.