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Big Society not proving a big hit in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 11:00 16 February 2011

Conservative Party Leader David Cameron visiting Sprowston High School.

Conservative Party Leader David Cameron visiting Sprowston High School.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2010

David Cameron's clarion call for a new army of volunteers to take forward his Big Society initiative appeared to be falling on deaf ears yesterday.

An Evening News survey found people remained largely uninspired by the prospect of working together to provide community services as the country battles through tough times.

It comes just a day after Mr Cameron attempted to re-launch his big idea, insisting it was his “passion” and held the key to achieving social recovery for a “broken society”.

The initiative, which the prime minister described as his “mission” in office, received a mixed response in Norfolk and Waveney. Just 39pc of respondents to the survey said they backed the idea of the Big Society and 59pc said they did not, or could not, support it.

Only 9pc of respondents said they had taken on voluntary work as a result of Mr Cameron’s rallying call.

And just 25pc of people said the idea of the Big Society would be likely to lead to them to take on more community responsibility in the future.

The remaining 75pc said they either did not have enough time, did not feel it was up to them, or were already volunteering long before Mr Cameron came up with the idea.

In support of Mr Cameron’s initiative, Neil Mickleburgh, 26, of Costessey, near Norwich, said: “People need to be given greater choice in what is happening in their local area and have the power to do something about it. I don’t think it’s just about volunteering.”

But Jeremy Bartlett, of Norwich, said: “It is a cynical PR exercise that is incompatible with the severe cuts that the ConDem government is implementing, which hit society’s most vulnerable people.”

And while more than a third of the 185 respondents were willing to give the Big Society a chance, few were likely to run out and start giving up their time for free to help it succeed.

Peter Marshall, 44, of Cromer, said: “I think making people redundant and expecting other people to fill their places by volunteering is a bit of a cheek.”

But Kim Bales, of Coltishall, said the Big Society had already inspired her to give more of her time to her community.

The results of the survey come just two days after Norfolk County Council agreed its toughest ever budget in an attempt to plug a £155m budget shortfall over the next three years.

Last night the area’s politicians urged people not to write-off the concept too soon.

Keith Simpson, MP for Broadland, said the initiative was still in its infancy and believed public perception could change. He said: “The Big Society, as David Cameron said on Monday, is a big project.

“It’s as much as anything else about changing people’s way of thinking about how we deliver services for our local communities. A lot more work has to be done and we don’t know until we try.”

Phil Wells, chief executive of Age UK Norwich, said he agreed it would be possible to find more people willing to take on informal roles in their community – like keeping an eye on their neighbours and supporting their friends.

But he warned the Big Society should not be used to dress up volunteering as an acceptable substitute for professional social workers.

What you think?

Richard Smith, 43, marketing manager from North Walsham Road, Sprowston:

“I think what he is trying to do is very important to the future of the country, I like the way that he does believe in putting the emphasis back on the public so that they are responsible for their own actions and the society we live in. From that point of view I think it’s a good thing. But I do believe that some of the things the he’s trying to achieve need a lot more thinking about and I’d like to see far more discussion about it with local organisations before they impose restrictions on people”.

Karen Woodley, 40, local government officer from Laundry Lane in Thorpe St Andrew:

“I can’t believe anyone would ever vote for David Cameron and I can’t believe his ideas, they’re absolutely shocking”.

Chris Smith, 22, unemployed graduate from St Stephen’s Road, Norwich:

“I don’t like David Cameron, I don’t trust him. It’s just privatisation again with a slightly more humane face than when the last Tory government did it”.

Brian Strouger, 65, retired management consultant from Cricket Field View in Brundall:

“I think in the last ten years there has been a culture of expecting everything to be done, they’ve stifled the initiative with over regulation, and here’s a chance to turn things back to possibly a hundred years when local communities actually were local communities and not totally dependent on other people to tell them what to do.”

Send your views to the Evening News at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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