Shadow minister for civil society Gareth Thomas MP plans to ask the National Audit Office to investigate the public funding given to Big Society Network and its charitable arm Society Network Foundation.
He may also request that the Public Accounts Committee look into the grants.
Thomas has accused the government of wasting public money on “Big Society vanity projects” after a civilsociety.co.uk investigation revealed that the Cabinet Office and other statutory funders had given around £1.2m to the two organisations since they launched just after the last election. None of this funding has appeared in any published accounts.
Thomas has also queried why the Big Lottery Fund has awarded over £1.8m to them over the same period, without making them compete for the money against other charities.
A number of trustees have close links to the Conservative Party and Thomas has suggested that this may have helped them to secure the funding. The Cabinet Office has already admitted that it expanded the eligibility criteria for the Social Action Fund, without broadcasting it publicly, so that Society Network Foundation could qualify.
The Cabinet Office awarded the charity £300,000 but two months after paying over the second tranche, of £98,000, it decided to scrap its support for the project and withheld the final £100,000. The project never launched.
Thomas has said Big Society Network’s track record is one of “failure” and he cannot see on what basis the Big Lottery Fund and government funders keep giving it money.
To that end, he is planning to write to the National Audit Office and possibly the Public Accounts Committee to ask them to investigate.
Last week, the chairman of BSN and SNF issued a comprehensive statement to civilsociety.co.uk defending the work of the two organisations and rejecting the allegations of unfairness and favouritism. You can read the statement here.