Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Nick Hurd admitted the idea had suffered a bad press: ‘There is a lot of rubbish that’s been written and talked about it.'
Yesterday, the communication of the Big Society was slammed by one of its architects. Philip Blond told The Times: ‘We know that the Big Society narrative was very badly communicated… and that people now think of it as just volunteering and philanthropy, which is a disaster.’
Hurd said the Big Society would be a bigger success if more businesses were to get involved. ‘We have barely tapped the potential that exists if we get this right,’ he said.
The minister named Barclays, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Asda and Sainsbury's as firms setting an example, and called on others to follow suit.
He claimed: ‘All the organisations I mentioned are not just doing this because they think it’s the right thing to do or to tick some kind of CSR box. They’re doing it because it is good for business.‘
But in the same event, hosted by Policy Exchange and SABMiller, Phil Collins, a columnist and leader writer on The Times, was more sceptical. Collins compared the project to the Third Way ideology, which was championed by Tony Blair early on in his Labour leadership but never gained traction with the public.
Collins, a former speechwriter to Blair, said: ‘I wonder whether the Big Society isn’t on the way to becoming the Third Way of its day. A lot of intellectual endeavor, a lot of speeches, a lot of words split, and then quietly dropped and later becomes a bit of an embarrassment that you try not to talk about and you pretend you never went to any of those seminars.
‘I think that could happen, but I actually believe it’s better than that, so it shouldn’t happen… I think it needs policies you can measure.’
Last year, Cameron put the Big Society at the centre of his conference speech, but he has been almost silent about the idea in recent months, fuelling speculation that the project is being quietly shelved.
Questioned on this at another conference event, the Tory MP Jesse Norman appeared to acknowledge that Number 10 was no longer focused on communicating the Big Society.
He said: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if, given all the things going on, the Government has taken the view that actions speak louder than words.’