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Big society over for Liverpool

City council pulls out after Redmond says it turned into a 'big lecture'

Published on February 7th 2011.

Big society over for Liverpool

WHAT would Bobby Grant have to say?

Liverpool City Council has pulled out of David Cameron's Big Society.

The news came hours after Brookside creator Phil Redmond,champion of David Cameron's "big society", said the volunteering vision for Liverpool had ground to a halt, here in the city where it was launched.The Brookside creator blamed spending cuts, but also cited a “hurried” project launch and said what started out as an opportunity for a big dialogue with the new Tory leaders turned into a “big lecture”.

Now Liverpool City Council has said "enough" to the scheme, with leader Joe Anderson asking Cameron in a two page letter: "How can the City Council support the Big Society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?

"I have therefore come to the conclusion that Liverpool City Council can no longer support the "Big Society" initiative, as a direct consequence of your funding decisions."

A Tory PM comes to Liverpool and says we've got this great idea to get everyone more involved. I'm not going to talk that down – it is and remains a good idea. The problem is two days later everyone defaults back to their normal setting

Labour Party member Redmond, who took over as supremo of Liverpool's European Capital of Culture in 2008, was appointed by the new Tory Prime Minister last July to take charge of the official scheme in the city. It was one of four across England intended to showcase volunteering activities.

It was greeted by criticisms, with opponents saying it was a way of recruiting armies of volunteers to replace paid workers in many sectors.

“We are in this together,” was the Cameron clarion call.

But in an interview with the Local Government Chronicle magazine, it seems not quite.

Professor Redmond said: "A Tory PM comes to Liverpool and says we've got this great idea to get everyone more involved. I'm not going to talk that down – it is and remains a good idea. The problem is two days later everyone defaults back to their normal setting.

"They've been in too much of a hurry. It's all about 'we want to change the world', not 'how do you want us to change the world?'. They turn up wanting to have a big conversation but it turns into a big lecture - telling us this is what you do and this is how you do it. We don't need that."

The magazine goes on to tell how correspondence between the Department for Communties and Local Government and Mr Redmond shows Whitehall officials asking Mr Redmond to agree on a proposed “script” for what the Liverpool 'Vanguard' was about.“We are starting to get queries about what the vanguards propose to do. It would be helpful to have an agreed script so we are all saying the same thing,” a DCLG official said in an email to Mr Redmond, dated 21 July, two days after the launch.

As chairman of National Museums Liverpool, Redmond had wanted the organisation to be at the heart of the volunteering, big society ideology - and Mersey Fire and Rescue service. But he had wanted it to be protected from spending cuts.

He says he warned the PM right at the outset that cuts could undermine the Big Society agenda. In an email to DCLG Mr Redmond said he had asked Cameron to protect NML and Mersey Fire & Rescue - the two key institutions at the heart of the big society strategy- from spending cuts.

“[I told Mr Cameron that] while we accept our responsibility to share the pain, it seems counterproductive to try and achieve a significant step change in what I think is now a genuinely shared [Big Society] vision, by reducing the capacity of two of the key organisations that can deliver that vision both for Merseyside and as an exportable model … I fear that both organisations will, inevitably, have to cut back to the core activity and shed the people and resources that have started to make the real gains,” he wrote in the email, dated July 23, four days after the launch of the vanguards. He added: “The PM took the point.”

But maybe not quite. Cameron then went on to imposes cuts of 15 per cent on the former; the national Conservation Centre is to close, while MFR could be forced to lay off one in 10 firefighters to make up an £8.5m funding shortfall.

The city council said last week that up to 500 charity workers would lose their jobs over the next two years.

The Brookside creator added that little progress had been made hereabouts and that its main achievement to date had been to connect "the People's Republic of Liverpool with Tory HQ".

"I went along with it all because I thought it would be a good way of getting things going,” he said, but the big society had been "subsumed by the cuts".

Mr Redmond was also highly critical of Government's plans to impose its own 5,000 community organisers into areas across England and says that here in Liverpool he would have preferred to work with the existing community sector.

"We've already got community organisers; they may not fit their model they've got from America, but they're here. We need to facilitate what's there already. (The big society agenda] is a bit like ballroom dancing – millions are already doing it but it's under the radar because everyone's focused on Strictly (Come dancing)."

In his letter to the PM today, Cllr Anderson said: "You will recall that you announced Liverpool as one of four ‘Big Society’ vanguard areas last summer with Phil Redmond leading the initiative.

"Later in the year, Liverpool City Council was asked to assist in this initiative around some key projects, including running a ‘parallel vanguard programme’. We took up this challenge wholeheartedly and have invested significant resources to deliver this substantial programme of activity.

"When we agreed to become a Vanguard, your government promised to work with us to remove some of the problems and blockages that were preventing us from successfully delivering our Big Society programme. I have to say, the government has failed to deliver a single change that we have requested, which has severely hampered many parts of our programme.

"Liverpool has been doing the 'Big Society' for many years. We call it "working with our communities" and it is something we are very much committed to. We pride ourselves on our excellent working relationships with our community and voluntary sectors, and indeed have done our upmost to support these sectors - as they are crucial to the success of our city."

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Rolling up sleevesFebruary 3rd 2011.

And so the fight back begins. Will Uncle Joe turn Liverpool into a federal republic again or what?

This all has so many gloomy echoes of the 1980s.

AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2011.

About time too. Show some spine and get in there Liverpool. The people will be right behind you.

Loud and proudFebruary 3rd 2011.

I should fcking well think so. Get down to the demo on Saturday and shout louder than anyone else in Britain Liverpool. Come on.

AnonymousFebruary 3rd 2011.

Well, well. Liverpool grows some bollocks instead of dropping them for a change. Well done Joe.

ADFebruary 3rd 2011.

Glorious fightback? The loosers will be liverpool's comunities. Charities often deliver better and more cost efective services than the local council is able to, the big society might have replicated those benefits, but now liverpool may never know.

Chris BernardFebruary 3rd 2011.

Thank you Joe Anderson and our other councillors for taking this stance. It must have been a difficult decision to make. Phil Redmond has also nailed his colours to the mast in support of this and should be praised. Integrity and morality prevail and should do even if the initial consequences create problems. And there will be a backlash and dirty tricks used to punish and demonise Liverpool,

Tricky WooFebruary 3rd 2011.

AD, as usual you have completely misunderstood.

The Government has FORCED Liverpool council to cut funding to charities in the city. The Big Society was asking people to do that work for nothing while Cameron saw to the axing of 500 charity jobs.

Leon KayFebruary 4th 2011.

I am surprised that Phil Redmond and Joe Anderson understood what this so called BIG society is suppose to means as nobody else does. On question time last night Melanie Phillips from the Mail (GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR hate that paper)said this doctrine of BS (BULL SHIT)does not come from the top but from the local communitities not just here but all over Britain.Everytime the BS is mentioned in Paliament even Cameron's own team raise their eyes sky ward,as if to say what the hell is he talking about.The sooner Cameron and his Poodle Clegg go the better and no doubt once again we the city will be demonised for our non complience.Please MR R and MR A don't entertain Mr C again with his piss pot ideas.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2011.

Hear hear Leon

saladdazeFebruary 4th 2011.

And hear hear from over here. Most of us had cottoned on ages ago to this smokescreen for punishing the poor to enhance the rich. They're just bankers and hunts.

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