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Cuts destroying big society concept, says CSV head

The government's spending cuts are "destroying" volunteering and undermining its "big society" vision, the head of a leading charity has said.

Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, who is retiring from the Community Service Volunteers (CSV) after 36 years, said there was no "strategic plan".

She told the Times the "massive" council cuts would make it harder for people to do more in their communities.

Ministers insist they are creating new sources of funds for voluntary groups.

The government has said it will be investing £470m over the next four years in charities and voluntary groups to give them independence from state money.

But Dame Elisabeth told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The cuts that are being imposed on local government and the health service are taking place now.

"So there are a lot of very worthwhile programmes - for example volunteers working in child protection as promoted by the minister for children - which are now under threat of closure."

"Start Quote

It's about one hand not appreciating what the other hand's doing"

End Quote Dame Elisabeth Hoodless Outgoing CSV director

She also told Today that funding for some projects came at the expense of others.

She said a £13m summer scheme for youngsters to spend six weeks meeting people from different backgrounds was being paid for by withdrawing funding from other initiatives such as one at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, south east London.

"Volunteers have been saving £600 per patient by helping them eat their meals at mealtimes and keeping the stroke unit open," she said of the hospital.

"So, it's about one hand not appreciating what the other hand's doing and not getting the decisions made in a timely fashion."

In an interview in the Times she said: "We know we need to save money, but there are other ways of saving money without destroying the volunteer army."

Her comments follow a decision last week by Liverpool to abandon a "big society" pilot project because the Labour council claimed cuts were undermining the voluntary groups supposed to take over some of the services.

Dame Elisabeth said volunteering should be introduced as part of national curriculum projects in schools and she backed a US idea that ties the funding of public bodies with the number of volunteers they recruit.

She was due to outline her proposals during her retirement speech in Westminster later on Monday.

'People power'

Criticism has been building over Mr Cameron's "big society" initiative, which was one of the central themes in the Conservative election manifesto last year.

However in December a leading charity figure - Community Links co-founder David Robinson - warned that the pace of cuts could "kill off" the groups Mr Cameron needed to fulfil the policy.

His comments were later echoed by Citizens Advice Bureau chief executive Gillian Guy.

And last week the leader of Liverpool City Council wrote to the prime minister withdrawing its involvement from the plans.

The city was one of four pilot areas for the scheme, but council leader Joe Anderson said government cuts had "cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups".

Immigration minister Damian Green said the council's decision was a "political gesture".

When he announced the "big society" in Liverpool last July, Mr Cameron said community groups should be able to run post offices, libraries, transport services and shape housing projects.

The concept would be a "big advance for people power", he said.

While reducing the budget deficit was his "duty", the prime minister said giving individuals and communities more control over their destinies was what excited him and was something that had underpinned his philosophy since he became Conservative leader in 2005.

Posted on Monday 7th February 2011

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