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Archive - Friday, 17 June 2011
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'Big Society really exists'
COMMUNITY groups have applied for about £1.2m from a controversial pot of cash aimed at boosting the idea of the ‘Big Society’.
As council cuts start to bite, more than 40 groups in Oxfordshire have applied for cash to take over services themselves.
And an Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member says that shows the ‘Big Society’ is thriving.
The council opened a £600,000 fund to provide cash for volunteers taking over projects they will no longer fund.
The first wave of bidding is now over and 41 groups applied for about £1.2m in grants.
Council officers will work with councillors to see which will receive the cash. They are looking for projects that “clearly demonstrate a need, are sustainable, are innovative or creative and involve the local community”.
Kieron Mallon, cabinet member for police and policy co-ordination, said: “There were people who doubted whether anybody would be interested in the concept of Big Society or in bidding to our fund.
“The fact that we have 41 bids totalling virtually £1.2m provides a resoundingly positive answer to those doubters.”
There will be three more bidding rounds throughout the financial year, ending in August, November and February, but no more cash. A report will be presented to the council cabinet in July to recommend current bids.
Mr Mallon added: “The Big Society is already thriving in Oxfordshire.
“We have a strong voluntary, community and faith sector with over 4,500 community and voluntary groups and an above average number of regular volunteers.”
West Oxfordshire village Bampton has been running a Big Society-style community shop since 2004.
Fenella Gray, who helped set it up, said: “We’re an example that these ideas can work. Volunteers in the village are brilliant and it helps bring people together.”
But Neil Clark, of the Save Botley Library campaign, said: “We decided not to go for it because we believe it is a smokescreen for cuts to services that should be provided by the council.”
The county council is planning to cut £119m from its budget over the next four years.
Jim Cranshaw, of the Oxford Save Our Services group, said: “The Big Society is largely a fig leaf to cover up public sector cuts and cuts to the voluntary service.”
The council would not tell the Oxford Mail which groups had applied for the money.