Possibly the biggest revelation to emerge from David Cameron’s latest launch of The Big Society is the news that the much heralded, much lobbied for, Big Society Bank will open in April 2011 with ‘up to’ £100 million available for loans to the social sector.
Assuming that the figure does succeed in getting fairly close ‘up to’ £100 million, this is obviously a lot of money to you and me but it’s not a lot of money for an institution that was in theory meant to solve the problem of lack of resources for the social enterprises and other organisations tasked with building the Big Society.
It is, for example, less than the £180 million dished out by Futurebuilders, which the new government has closed. And Futurebuilders was a relatively narrowly focused fund – aimed at supporting organisations aiming to deliver contracted out public services. Communitybuilders is also currently ‘under review’.
While Monday’s announcement does contain the promise of lots more jam at some point when all the ‘unclaimed assets’ have finally been found and requisitioned, the short to medium term reality is that there’s going to be less loan funding available to enterprising social organisations than there was under the previous government.
I’m still yet to hear any clear evidence-based or strong hypothesis-based argument to back up the notion that the lack of available loan finance is one of the biggest problems we currently face but, given that ministers have repeatedly agreed with sector leaders’ suggestions that it is, they probably need to consider putting a bit more money where there mouth is. If not, they risk providing fuel for the fiery outbursts of those who claim that the Big Society is all about social enterprises and voluntary sector groups doing the government’s job with no resources.