UK & World News

  • 27 July 2014, 0:07

Big Society Payments Under Investigation

The Charity Commission is investigating the use of government grants by the charity set up to lead the Prime Minister's Big Society initiative.

It is examining whether the "Big Society Network" got special treatment from the Cabinet Office when it gained funding for a failed project set up to tackle childhood obesity.

A spokeswoman from the Charity Commission told Sky News it will look at whether "trustees have acted independently, have they managed conflicts of interests and have they accounted for the money properly?"

She added: "We have had a response from the charity (Big Society Network), but it does not fully address our concerns so we have to engage again. We have requested documents that explain why the grant was given."

The Big Society Network was launched by David Cameron at Downing Street two months after winning power in 2010, with the aim of encouraging the kind of community work and volunteering he had put at the heart of the Conservative manifesto for that year's election.

But the performance of many of the projects it ran has been heavily criticised and the National Audit Office (NAO) exposed problems with how 2m worth of grants were handed over to it.

The "Your Square Mile" project, which was granted 830,000 in lottery funds, the "Britain's Personal Best" project which got a grant of just under 1m and the 300,000 "Get In" project to tackle childhood obesity which received funds from a Cabinet Office were all found to have failed dramatically in meeting their predicted targets.

The NAO report also suggests the Cabinet Office changed the rules on how long a charity needed to be in existence in order to get a grant approved for the "Get In" project and found administration of the funds was "not in line with the Cabinet Office's own guidance."

Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society, has written to Mr Cameron calling for an inquiry.

She wrote: "I hope you were as concerned as I was to discover that the Cabinet Office has wasted large sums of Government funding on questionable projects which ended in such failure.

"It is extraordinary that millions of pounds have been squandered, especially in this current climate where funding is scarce and many charitable organisations are fighting for survival."

Lisa Nandy told Sky News: "We want to know how such huge sums of money came to be wasted on an organisation that was brand new, that was chaired by a Conservative party donor, staffed by former Conservative party advisors and ended up delivering virtually nothing.

"We particularly want to know why the Cabinet Office continued to pay money to this organisation even though they knew the project was failing."

Other charities have welcomed the Commission's investigation. Jennifer Blake, from the Safe'N'Sound youth project in Peckham said: "Who sat round that round table when they decided they needed a big society to do all those things?

"Were they grass-root organisations that are dealing with day-by-day community issues or were they just individuals who come in and do a bit of research and they think they know what us as a community needs? Consult with us. Stop wasting money."

The cabinet office told Sky News: "The awarding of this grant has been the subject of intensive investigation by Cabinet Office and independently by the NAO. Both investigations found no rules were broken and the matter is now closed."

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