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."