CUTTING public spending has undermined Oxfordshire’s Big Society, according to those on the volunteer frontline in our county.
Speaking in London yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron said the concept of empowering residents to run services such as libraries, community transport or post offices, was “central to social recovery”.
Witney MP Mr Cameron has come under fire for the initiative but has insisted it was his “absolute passion”.
However, 50 miles away on Oxford’s Wood Farm Estate, the unpaid parents who run a youth club fear public spending cuts will put their project in jeopardy.
And the head of Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA), Alison Baxter, said the lack of cash for voluntary groups was making it harder to be part of the Big Society idea.
Wood Farm Youth Club is due to lose its paid youth worker as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s spending cuts. Its six volunteers fear that without that support they will not be able to carry on.
Richard Bryant, chairman of the management committee, said: “It could undermine and destroy what is a good volunteer project.”
He said the club was volunteer-run, but that was built upon the expertise of the youth workers.
“It is difficult to expect volunteers to take complete responsibility for the youth club, that sometimes involves working on difficult situations,” he added.
Last year, the Oxford Mail reported that police, young people and residents feared antisocial behaviour would rise if youth centres were closed. Ms Baxter, chief executive of volunteering umbrella organisation OCVA, said the Wood Farm scenario was a “classic example”.
She added: “There are high levels of anxiety among people in the voluntary sector because they are seeing funding being cut.
“Volunteering comes at a cost, even if that is only a couple of thousand pounds to pay for a room or cover expenses, so that those not on a high income can afford to volunteer.
“Without that money, people cannot afford to pay for the petrol to drive an elderly neighbour to hospital, for example.”
In a speech to social entrepreneurs yesterday, Mr Cameron denied the big society was a cover for cuts. He said “This is my absolute passion. It’s a different way of governing; a different way of going about trying to change our country for the better.”
Oxfordshire County Council, which is set to agree £119m of budget cuts today, has created a £600,000 Big Society fund, and invited local people to run threatened services including youth clubs and libraries.
Council spokesman Louise Mendonca said: “The proposals are that youth services are delivered as part of the more integrated early intervention service.”