Public sector unions yesterday slammed prime minister Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ plans as a threat to public services and the welfare state.
Commenting on Cameron’s speech in Liverpool, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, the UK’s largest public service union, said: ‘Cameron’s “big society” should be renamed the “big cop out”. 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. We don’t want jumble sales to provide incubators for babies, we shouldn’t have volunteers taking over our libraries or museums, and where are all these people with time on their hands going to come from?
‘Are we going to pay an army of newly unemployed to help run services? Public services must be based on the certainty that they are there when you need them, not when a volunteer can be found to help you.’
A spokesman for civil servants’ union PCS added: ‘We’ll take no lectures from the Tories about the power of solidarity and grassroots organisation, and we recognise the value of people volunteering to help others in their community. But behind the spin and the headlines, we know that Cameron’s “big society” represents a serious threat to the future of our public services and the welfare state.
‘Essential public services can not be provided simply by asking people to help out. They need proper funding and resources, and well-trained, well-paid and motivated staff, who are accountable to the public, not answerable to the shareholders of private companies.’
Unite, the largest union in the country, said: ‘David Cameron’s “passion” for the big society is intellectually flawed and a throwback to a 1950s Britain that never existed.’
Rachael Maskell, Unite National Officer, Community and Not for Profit Sector, said: ‘We have been down this road before when John Major had a similar pipe dream of an idyllic Britain of 60 years ago. There is a hypocrisy here. The voluntary sector is being hit by massive cuts to its funding – for example, Croydon council has slashed 70 per cent of its voluntary sector budget.
‘And the coalition’s rampant drive for greater competition, heralded by the NHS White Paper last week, will drive down costs even more, especially as the “big society” welcomes private sector interventions. This will mean that quality is compromised for cheapness. This culture either destroys services in organisations willing to compromise or stops them winning bids.
‘Volunteering is not a replacement for jobs. Charities still need professional skills and good managers. And if we want the sector to add quality then well-trained professionals need to do this.
‘The “big society” is smoke and mirrors for an avalanche of privatisation under the Tories.’