Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Big Society Unlocked!        

The Government has finally published their strategy for Growing the social investment market: a vision and strategy. This document explains the role of the Big Society Bank in supporting a thriving social investment market that would help build a stronger and bigger society. For sometime there has been a vacuum between the broad concepts that define Big Society and the need for more information to shape how the Big Society will work. We had been wondering if the Government was reconsidering this concept following the weight of public criticism however recent statements by David Cameron confirming commitment to Big Society and this document now suggest not.

Growing the Social Investment Market sheds some light on future aspirations held by Government for the VCS and in particular it’s role in public service delivery. Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude has pledged to unlock £78bn in charitable assets for Big Society and handover 25% of public service contracts to private and voluntary sector organisations.  

More details about the £250m Big Society Bank are expected shortly. The timing for the bank to ’open for business’ by the third quarter of the year is of obvious concern given that this was originally set for the beginning of the financial year 2011. The Government has pitched the Bank as a major source of funding for most social enterprises that will be delivering public services. However many established organisations will struggle to remain afloat before the bank begins to give; due to spending cuts and loss of statutory funding.

There also appears to be some uncertainty about the use of dormant bank accounts in this way. The Government has taken an innovative approach to generating the capital required to make the Big Society Bank an effective wholesale bank. The 2008 Dormant Bank and Building Society Act, passed by the previous administration, give the Government the right to collect and redistribute unclaimed money from dormant accounts after 15 years and is expected to generate up to £400m of funding eventually. However there is a hurdle to overcome: the European Commission must agree that the scheme does not break rules designed to prevent governments giving undue advantage to a particular business sector. Approval from the EC isn’t expected until end of 2011 so, with the first money from dormant bank accounts coming available in the summer, the Government is making arrangements for the Big Lottery Fund to help Big Society Bank launch while the approval is being sought.  

One EM will continue to watch developments closely and will ensure that updates are available as and when they are released.
Rachel Quinn
Chief Executive
One East Midlands

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