Yesterday, I went to a massive #nocuts rally at Norfolk County Hall, and then watched Simon Hughes MP on television saying that there 'of course' have to be cuts to voluntary services at a time of large-scale government cuts. That kind of apologia really does make a complete nonsense of the Government's alleged 'Big Society' agenda.
The reality is as follows: The government is forcing through big, rapid cuts. It is trying to target most of those cuts onto areas where public outrage at the cuts will not be too rapid or drastic. One obvious target has been local government (in complete contradiction with the government's alleged 'localism' agenda): local government is a soft target, because money that goes to local government does not go direct to citizens, and so central government can always shift blame onto the local governments themselves. In the most cynical of ways, this latter is what Eric Pickles, the Local Government Minister, has now been doing for several months.
As a local Councillor, I know only too well how dependent many vital voluntary services / NGOs / etc. are upon local government to stay alive. The voluntary sector, these services, these groups, are in many cases now being slashed or driven to the wall, as local Councils desperately seek to make ends meet.
What the Government has perpetrated here really is a sickeningly cynical exercise. For it is nothing more nor less than a sick joke to talk about the 'Big Society' while creating conditions that you know will result in a severe reduction of the voluntary sector's ability to cope and to do good things.
And precisely this is what Westminster has done. It is the opposite of joined-up government, and it is, in my view, both a stupidity and a disgrace.