Was Big Society a ploy, asks Sentamu

26 April 2013

KEITH BLUNDY/AEGIS ASSOCIATES

North-eastern tour: Dr Sentamu on a visit to Durham diocese and Sunderland, earlier this week, to see community projects in action

North-eastern tour: Dr Sentamu on a visit to Durham diocese and Sunderland, earlier this week, to see community projects in action

THE Government's Big Society programme "appears to have vanished without trace", the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said on Monday evening, writes Ed Thornton.

In an address to the annual civic dinner of Sunderland Council at Washington Old Hall, Tyne and Wear, Dr Sentamu said: "Where is the Big Society, that once much-trumpeted flagship policy of David Cameron?. . .

"But now this concept of the Big Society appears to have vanished without trace. No politician refers to it any more. Was it simply a sound-bite, a ruse that played well with focus groups, but that was easily pushed aside when put under greater scrutiny?

"The cynic might suggest that it wasn't so much a celebration of a thriving society where everyone looks out for their neighbour, but rather a ploy to get community groups to pick up the cost of local government cuts."

During the talk, "Freeing Local Democracy from the Shackles of Central Government", Dr Sentamu called for "a fundamental shift in the way that we understand local democracy in this country".

A turnout of 31.1 per cent in last year's local-government elections was "an indication that people do not feel involved in the decision-making process in their communities".

The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke at his diocesan synod on Saturday of his decision to sign a letter last month, together with 42 other bishops, questioning the Government's welfare changes (News, 15 March). Bishop Butler said that the bishops might "have not been as clear as we could be in making plain that we understand and support the intention of many of the [welfare] changes being made.

"However, there is a deep concern that some of the specific decisions have been unwise, and they will push more children into poverty. . . Absolutely the best way to lift children out of poverty is through parents' working; but they need a Living Wage, and as a nation we need to recognise the vital and essential role that parents play in caring for . . . their own children."

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