Cameron promises power for the 'man and woman on the street'

PM says 'big society' plans will create communities with 'oomph' and denies programme is a mask for public sector cuts

David Cameron delivers his 'big society' speech Link to this video

David Cameron today pledged to deliver a dramatic redistribution of power "from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street" as he set out his plans to create what the Tories are calling the "big society".

In his most important speech since the general election on the devolution of power, the prime minister said he wanted to create communities with "oomph" and end the days in which capable people become "passive recipients" of state help.

Delivering the speech in Liverpool, he denied the programme was a mask for public sector cuts.

"The big society ... is about liberation – the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street," the prime minister said.

"And this is such a powerful idea for blindingly obvious reasons. For years, there was the basic assumption at the heart of government that the way to improve things in society was to micromanage from the centre, from Westminster. But this just doesn't work."

Liverpool will be one of four "vanguard" areas that will receive special help to set up projects, ranging from local transport to improving the provision of broadband. The other areas are Eden Valley in Cumbria, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Sutton.

Cameron said that the vanguard communities, each to be given a team of civil servants, will be the "training grounds" of the 'big society'. In Liverpool, a volunteer programme is being built to keep museums open for longer.

In Cumbria, the new Tory MP for Penrith and the Borders, Rory Stewart, is trying to improve the provision of broadband.

The prime minister made a point of outlining tangible examples of benefits from the "big society" as he answered critics who said during the election that the idea was vague. Shadow ministers claimed the idea was impossible to sell on the doorstep, with one complaining that the term sounded like "Hegelian dialectic" dreamed up by Oliver Letwin.

A "big society" bank will be established to finance charities and voluntary groups. This will be funded using "every penny of dormant bank and building society account money allocated to England", Cameron announced.

He said it would eventually allocate hundreds of millions of pounds. But the Financial Times reported today that the bank would only be able to launch with reserves of around £60m.

Cameron also outlined three strands of what he called the "Big Society" agenda:

• Social action: "Government ... must foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action."

• Public service reform: "We've got to get rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale."

• Community empowerment: "We need to create communities with oomph – neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them."

Cameron insisted the "big society" idea was simple as he reminded his audience at Liverpool Hope University that he has been talking about it since he stood for the Tory leadership in 2005.

"The big society is about a huge culture change where people in their everyday lives, in their homes, their neighbourhoods and their workplace don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face. But instead they will feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities."

Cameron conceded that it would be naive to assume that society will miraculously spring up if government rolls back. Government is needed to help devolve power, he said, as he called for a new approach from Whitehall.

"The truth is that we need a government that actually helps to build up the big society. This means a whole new approach to government and governing.

"For a long time the way government has worked – top-down, top-heavy, controlling – has frequently had the effect of sapping responsibility, local innovation and civic action. It has turned many motivated public sector workers into disillusioned, weary puppets of government targets.

"It has turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help with little hope for a better future. It has turned lively communities into dull, soulless clones of one another. So we need to turn government completely on its head."

Earlier, Cameron today denied that his "big society" agenda was a cover for public service cuts.

He said: "It is not a cover for anything. I was talking about the "big society" and encouraging volunteering, encouraging social enterprises and voluntary groups to do more to make our society stronger. I was talking about that way before we had a problem with cuts and deficits and all the rest of it.

"This would be a great agenda whether we were having to cut public spending or whether we were increasing public spending."

He told BBC Breakfast: "This is not about trying to save money, it is about trying to have a bigger, better society."

Responding for Labour, Tessa Jowell, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "The content of today's speech is simply a brass-necked rebranding of programmes already put in place by a Labour government. Funding for a social investment bank and community pubs was put in place in March, and residents have been involved in setting council budgets for a number of years."

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, which represents many public sector workers, said: "Make no mistake, this plan is all about saving money, and it will cost even more jobs and lead to more service cuts. The government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative."

The Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband yesterday accused the Conservative party of "cynically attempting to dignify its cuts agenda, by dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society".

He said: "People in the voluntary sector know that, for all the talk of a big society, what is actually on the way is cuts and the abandonment of community projects across Britain.

"Make no mistake, under the Tories the voluntary sector's role will be shrunk, not expanded."

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  • thatguyfromderby thatguyfromderby

    19 Jul 2010, 12:16PM

    An interesting sideshow but not one that makes up for the kind of news being discussed in my city today

    Where the chief constable has confirmed that 25% cut to budget can only mean fewer police officers, fewer CPSOs and fewer resources for local policing which has been very successful

    As 87% of his budget is people and cuts have already been made to "backroom" staff there is no option left to him

    But these cuts won't affect front line services !

    Let's at least do away with that fiction as the jagged pill goes down

    At least we'll be able to buy a pub though

  • Cade Cade

    19 Jul 2010, 12:19PM


    "We've cut everything so much that we cannot provide education, policing, health services or benefits. You are on your own."

  • Burntfaceman Burntfaceman

    19 Jul 2010, 12:19PM

    He's not going to give up on this nonsense is he? Not sure which is more sinister; an out of touch critically inexperienced member of the priviliged elite actually believing his own prescribed and carefully rehearsed bile, or the suspicion that this agenda hides the inevitable; ultra speedy privitisation of every service possible, including dismantling the NHS brick by brick...?

    The audacious and breathtaking pace by which the Condems are rolling out their madness would be admirable if the motives weren't so twisted...Fix the broken by all means (fair and if necessary foul) but so much of what they're determined to take a wrecking ball to, in order to simply piss their rabid scent on their ideological territory, already works well...

  • JeniWren JeniWren

    19 Jul 2010, 12:21PM

    Buying a local pub? Yes, we could all pull together & be just like the locals of Ambridge!

    I guess all those unemployed youngsters will be queueing to volunteer to keep their local museum open. I've got an even better idea - pay them a living wage to do it!

  • indrossi indrossi

    19 Jul 2010, 12:23PM

    I went to a street-party in Hackney yesterday- all the neighbours contributing food, music, drink, bbq's, getting to know each other- and then everyone's children put on a performance.

    Broken society, my arse.

  • liamnsw liamnsw

    19 Jul 2010, 12:24PM

    The Big Society Bank is based on legislation passed by Labour, allowing money untouched for 15 years to be diverted to good causes if account holders cannot be traced by banks

    Oh yeah, I don't remember Labour doing this. They probably slipped it in whilst nobody was looking. It is legalized theft, untouched for 15 years or not, the money does not BELONG to government or the banks, but to the account holder.

    But anyway, on to the bigger picture of his speech, decentralisation HAS to happen, you guys in the UK have no money left, a big debt and an over staffed Public Service, full of non-jobs. Change hurts, get used to it.

  • CiggyStardust CiggyStardust

    19 Jul 2010, 12:25PM

    I can't help thinking, for a man who's had the best education money can buy, and who's supposed to be so frightfully clever, Cameron doesn't half come out with some bollocks, sometimes.

  • JohnPrice JohnPrice

    19 Jul 2010, 12:29PM

    So how do these voluntary groups operate? Who appoints them and from where do they get their mandate? How are disputes resolved? How do we prevent the usual crowd of dysfunctional busybodies from messing up the local bus service?
    How is power to be exercised over councils, who have after all, been elected in the first place?

    It seems to me that we will end up with another layer of local government, with no-one taking responsibility for anything.

  • KillerJoe KillerJoe

    19 Jul 2010, 12:30PM

    Ciggy - he's moderating his speech very precisely for his target audience. He thinks they will believe him. They probably will. The current govt's spin is truly breathtaking. Each successive PM is getting smoother and smoother in their propaganda. Cameron builds on Blair builds on Thatcher.

  • gefreiter gefreiter

    19 Jul 2010, 12:32PM

    "As well as Liverpool, the areas picked to receive initial help with projects are Eden Valley, Cumbria; Windsor and Maidenhead, Berkshire; and the London borough of Sutton."

    Not cherrypicking then.

  • Skinz Skinz

    19 Jul 2010, 12:33PM

    I don't have time to get involved. Isn't this why we vote for people to sort these things out for us?

    Big Society is a terrible idea, if we don't get involved we'll all be at the mercy of well-organised specialist interest fringe groups with plenty of time on their hands. Like creationists who will start their own 'free schools'; pensioners who will divert council funds away from youth centres into old folks homes and pushy middle-class parents who will priortise violin lessons for Miranda and Tarquin over free school meals for Darren and Tracey.

  • halmighty halmighty

    19 Jul 2010, 12:34PM

    Cameron is so correct in doing this. I remember in Wiltshire five years ago, there was a nice (for profit) swimming facility. They provided a much needed service, lessons, recreation,etc for a very modest fee (I doubt they made much profit at all).

    For some reason the local council decided they needed to put him out of business. So they built a competing swimming facility, providing the same services. The result? The private business guy went out of business and went to work at the council's facility full time. Once again, a burgeoning entrepreneur quashed by the govt.

    These business people should be encouraged, not put out of business by some bureaucrat in the council spending someone else's money. No businessman can compete with the "free" services of the govt....even though we all know they are not free.

  • DanielFrisbee DanielFrisbee

    19 Jul 2010, 12:34PM

    The ivory fences are going up, and the bottom 20% or so of society, having had all support withdrawn will be left to the dogs whilst the last couple of police officers watch on cctv. The apocalypse is nigh... con-dem-nation is upon us.
    What a world we live in, wantonly ruining ourselves. How utterly depressing.

  • eriktheeel eriktheeel

    19 Jul 2010, 12:35PM

    Cameron said the programme, outlined in a speech in Liverpool today, amounted to the "biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power" from the state to individuals.

    Just say it Cameron! What you actually mean to say is the "biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power" from the state to CORPORATIONS

  • TheGreatRonRafferty TheGreatRonRafferty

    19 Jul 2010, 12:35PM

    I'm VOLUNTEERING to be Prime Minister. I'll not even live at 10, Downing St, and I'll have my own car, fill it with diesel out of my own pocket, and drive myself around.

    How's about it Dave?

    That means you can now fuck off.

  • gingerbollock gingerbollock

    19 Jul 2010, 12:36PM

    I gave this achnace, I honestly did. I was even prepared to let

    designed to promote "people power" initiatives, such as buying a local pub

    slip by.

    But this: [government]

    has turned lively communities into dull, soulless clones of one another

    I had literally no idea that high street chains such as McDonalds, Tesco etc were government owned. But I congratulate Dave on his boldness and look forward to legislation curbing the power of big business to go in and strangle communities, planning applications to be scrapped, and profits from local communities to go back into local communities and not the pockets of big shareholders with offshore accounts.

    Or is this not what he plans to do?

  • lenmcmanotony lenmcmanotony

    19 Jul 2010, 12:36PM

    Why don't they fess-up and lay their cards on the table? They want to privatise just about everything and import the American Way. Talk about turning the clock back!

    We'll be wearing either top hats or cloth caps next, when we've only just got used to leaving our forelock alone.

    Gor blimey! Bless you guvnor!

  • bino bino

    19 Jul 2010, 12:36PM

    JeniWren: unemployed youngsters will be queueing to volunteer to keep their local museum open

    you've hit the nail on the head here. the problems we have are based on people not pulling their fingers out their a*ses and doing something productive with their lives.

    the fact that umemployed youngster won't volunteer says everything you need to know about the UK at the moment - perhaps if they did actually volunteer and get some useful work experience and skills they would be able to get a proper job, get off benefits and actually contribute to our society.

  • joshthedog joshthedog

    19 Jul 2010, 12:37PM

    This went quiet for a little while... it was bandied about before the election a bit. I had assumed that it had been shelved.

    Anyway... call me a cynic, but I suspect that has been de-shelved as a diversionary tactic. A bit of a pointer and a "look over there, interesting stuff for you to see and do!" whilst Osborne et al carry on their ideological rampage through the public sector in the other direction.

  • Self Self

    19 Jul 2010, 12:38PM

    'As 87% of his budget is people and cuts have already been made to "backroom" staff there is no option left to him'

    Well, there is the problem in a nutshell. All the money is taken up by salaries and pensions. There is no money left to actually DO anything (except buy big foreign cars in the case of the police).

    This happens in the public and private sectors - too many unncecessary people whose salaries take up all the budget, leaving no resources to actually achieve anyhing. Better to have, as a basic example, enough bricks and only two people to build, than not enough bricks but four people to build.

  • ArseneKnows ArseneKnows

    19 Jul 2010, 12:39PM

    But before I get into the details, let me briefly explain what the Big Society is and why it is such a powerful idea.

    You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.

    I call it bullshit.

  • LaxativeFunction LaxativeFunction

    19 Jul 2010, 12:39PM

    The Condem manifesto:

    We've run out of money so we're going to start something called the "Big Society" (no relation to "Big Brother") which we will fund by stealing money from the public.

  • lkearse lkearse

    19 Jul 2010, 12:40PM

    Could someone explain how policing can be delivered by the private sector? Maybe when we arrest a burglar we could go round everyone's house and ask for a fiver? Or perhaps we should arrest whoever you want as long as you slip us a few grand?

    Some stuff just can't be effectively provided by the free market.

  • BetseyTrotwood BetseyTrotwood

    19 Jul 2010, 12:40PM

    "These unclaimed assets, alongside the private sector investment that we will leverage, means that the Big Society Bank will, over time, make available hundreds of millions of pounds of new finance to some of our most dynamic social organisations." said the PM going on to announce that the coalition also plans to introduce specially trained teams to check the coin return bit in phone boxes and check if anyone has left their pound in their locker at the swimming pool. Neighbourhood Watch squadrons may also be given powers to enter homes and check down the back of the sofa for lost change.

    Good grief.

  • oldefarte oldefarte

    19 Jul 2010, 12:40PM

    We are going to end up with unelected unrepresentative Hyacinth Bucket type busibodies like my Tory sister in law 'organising' people and ordering them around and the government abrogating on one of its prime responsibilities. which is to protect the weak against the strong in society. Appalling, distressing thought.

  • Gegenbeispiel Gegenbeispiel

    19 Jul 2010, 12:40PM

    "Big society" ?

    In reality a big surrender of society and social control - regulation and direc\tion - to powerful big business, with little local organisations playing the part of fig leaves while Bullingdon Boys and their sponsors get rich. Enslavement to markets follows.

    It may be time for a general strike and getting out onto the streets

  • CeilingCat CeilingCat

    19 Jul 2010, 12:41PM

    'Big Society' bollocks. It's a cynical attempt to excuse away unnecessarily savage ideologically motivated cuts to the public sector by telling people that now at least they have control over things. Evidently, Cameron thinks the services he can't flog to the private sector can be run by volunteers (if they can be bothered, s'not like he cares either way), because of course there aren't any jobs anywhere. There was a comment by someone looking for volunteers on the live blog I think, expressing delighted surprise that instead of the retired volunteers they usually get, this time they have lots of under-30s turning up. Well I never, perhaps it's because university is now too expensive for any but the elite again and they have bugger all chance of getting paid work.

  • HowardD HowardD

    19 Jul 2010, 12:43PM

    David Cameron today denied that his "big society" agenda was a cover for public service cuts.

    You talk as if this was a bad thing.

    There are countless areas of life where public sector jobsworths have taken over from the role of family, friends and neighbours. In so doing they have atomised society, fuelled dependency on the state and massively increased the cost of the public sector.

    Trouble is, I'm not sure if Dave's proposals will touch these. But it's a start.

  • SatchelM SatchelM

    19 Jul 2010, 12:43PM

    Of course it's also a way of placing more power in the hands of local authorities, many of which tend to stay blue even when central government is red. Thus the Tories' power will remain strong even when they are not in government.

    The Tories' agressive dismantling of the last remaining remnants of the developments stemming from the Beveridge Report demonstrates they don't expect to be in power for long, but they intend to wreak as much damage on the state's duty of care as they can.

    This lot make me nostalgic for Thatcher.

  • MorganaLeFay MorganaLeFay

    19 Jul 2010, 12:45PM

    There are a few communities who have co-operatively bought the village pub or store to keep them running, to keep them out of the claws of pubcos, to avoid rent increases that would put them out of business. A last resort for the locals to revert to to preserve the character of their village.

    I am getting a feeling that these initiatives are being ever so slightly abused by the current government; not to save money, not to preserve rural England's character, but to avoid tackling the underlying, bigger issue: ever mightier corporations grabbing ever more land to set up temples of consumerism. Ideally, it should be made harder for this happen and to buy up public space and privatize it. But we don't see that happening; not under NuLab, not under DemCon, or any other political party save maybe the Green Party - but they're far away from having a say.

  • murraw murraw

    19 Jul 2010, 12:47PM

    Can't think of one good thing the Conservatives have done since taking office, other than giving the pound a bit of a lift and exposing Clegg for the rich posho Tory in yellow that he actually is.

  • jereboam jereboam

    19 Jul 2010, 12:48PM

    A party funded by people who live in Belize, Monaco, Jersey, The Cayman fact anywhere but the UK - and they want a Big Society?
    Perhaps it's big because it includes all the tax havens?

  • JeniWren JeniWren

    19 Jul 2010, 12:48PM

    bino - 'the fact that umemployed youngster won't volunteer says everything you need to know about the UK at the moment '

    Some young people do volunteer - I know a few. The point is, surely, that it is wrong for those of us in paid employment to expect others to do socially necessary jobs for nothing.

  • DrSG DrSG

    19 Jul 2010, 12:49PM

    So are all you well meaning Guardian readers actually going to do anything about all this?

    Support strikes?
    Go out and demonstrate?
    Stop buying stuff you don't need, and letting people know about it?
    Go out and demonstrate?

    Because seriously, posting witty and snide comments here on CIF is going to achieve f@ck all.

  • Jambo234 Jambo234

    19 Jul 2010, 12:49PM

    It has the unmistakable stench of something that really cannot work.

    But then again there are some absolute morons out there that will give this the time of day.

    On face value it's going to take thousands of (already underpaid) workers in museums and libraries out of their jobs. Towns are going to end up being run by Tory nutcases who (call me cynical) will let the power go to their heads.

    The "dormant bank accounts" is particularly mysterious.

    It's the first Tory policy that has genuinely left me feeling insecure and afraid.

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