Big Society report published

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Government must work with voluntary sector for big society to succeed, says independent audit.

The Government’s Big Society initiative must target poorer communities and young and ethnic minority people, working in genuine partnership with the voluntary sector, if it is to succeed. So finds the first ever independent audit of David Cameron’s flagship programme.

Download the Big Society Audit 2012

Key findings from the Big Society Audit

The Audit finds a “Big Society gap” between different groups against key
indicators. For example:

  • Deprived versus affluent communities: 51% of people in the most deprived areas say their neighbourhood pulls together to improve it, compared to 78% in the most affluent.
  • Younger and older people: 55% of 16-24 year olds say that people in their neighbourhood pulls together, compared to 73% of people over 65; Volunteers are more likely to be middle aged and middle class.
  • White and ethnic minority people: 52% of white people say that many people in their neighbourhood can be trusted, against 27% from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Cuts to voluntary sector hindering Big Society initiatives

Government failure to get buy in from others to the Big Society is a major potential obstacle to bridging that gap, the Audit finds, and the Government needs to work more closely with the voluntary sector, providing the right support, especially in deprived areas which are being particularly hit by Government cuts.

Far from being strengthened in the first two years of the Big Society, the voluntary sector is facing £3.3 billion of cuts in public funding up to 2016.

Voluntary organisations working with disadvantaged groups in deprived areas are more likely to depend on statutory funding but local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation in England suffered the deepest cuts in spending in 2011-2012.

Despite various Government initiatives to stimulate new funding for the sector, the Audit concludes that extra funds from donations are unlikely to fill this funding hole, with levels of giving to charities by individuals already high.

Bias to larger organisations in tendering

The Audit found that small, local voluntary and community organisations find it hard to gain Government contracts, as tendering practices seem to have an implicit bias toward larger organisations, mainly in the private sector. For example, requirements in the Work Programme, described as a flagship Big Society programme, seemed to favour the private sector, which won 90 per  cent of prime contracts in 2011.

Government needs to engage with voluntary sector

The principal author and Director of Civil Exchange, Caroline Slocock, said:
“The Audit found a genuine interest in getting involved in local issues and in supporting charities but also a ‘Big Society gap’ between younger and older people and deprived and affluent communities. For example, far fewer younger people and people in deprived areas think that their neighbourhoods are pulling together to improve it. The Government needs to engage with the voluntary sector as a key partner if it is to bridge this gap. That means forging common goals, ensuring the sector has the right support and giving fair access to Government contracts. It is ironic that a programme to engage communities is being driven from Whitehall.”

The Audit is produced by think tank Civil Exchange, with research and
communications support from Democratic Audit and DHA, and backed by the
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK.

Voluntary Action Westminster is a registered charity (no. 1068824) and is registered as a company in England and Wales with company number 03518124.  Copyright Voluntary Action Westminster 2009

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