British PM defends 'Big Society' agenda

14th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron defended Monday his flagship plan to fix "broken Britain" by boosting the work of community and charity groups amid criticism it was being undermined by his own budget cuts.

Cameron has been pushing the idea of a "big society", which involves devolving power to local government and communities and boosting voluntary organisations, since he took power at the head of a coalition last May.

However, critics have accused Cameron of trying to cover up the damage done to public services by the spending cuts by getting third-sector organisations to pick up the slack -- while at the same time, slashing their funding.

Cameron, the leader of the centre-right Conservatives, said in a speech in London that the "big society" was "all about... giving people more power and control to improve their lives and communities."

He said that while bringing down a record budget deficit through spending cuts was his "duty", "what is my mission, what it is that I'm really passionate about, is actually social recovery as well as economic recovery".

"I think we need a social recovery because there are too many parts of our society that are broken," the prime minister said, pointing to crime, family breakdown and over-dependence on welfare.

Last week, Elisabeth Hoodless, the outgoing head of the Community Service Volunteers (CSV), Britain's leading volunteering and training charity, said the cuts risked "destroying the volunteer army".

Days earlier, authorities in Liverpool, one of four pilot areas for the "big society" scheme, announced they were pulling out because the cuts had undermined the ability of community groups to help improve residents' lives.

Cameron hit back Monday, saying that his idea "is not a cover for anything. It is a good thing to try and build a bigger and stronger society whatever is happening to public spending."

He acknowledged that "I don't believe that you just roll back the state and the big society springs up miraculously".

Cameron said the government would set up a "Big Society Bank" with £200 million ($320 million, 240 million euros) from Britain's largest banks to help support community and other groups, and would soon announce plans to train 5,000 community organisers.

© 2011 AFP

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