In a speech from Milton Keynes today, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced several initiatives in relation to the Government’s Big Society project including £40m in support to encourage greater voluntary work participation.

The idea of the Big Society project is to make communities stronger by getting more people to work together to run their own affairs locally and put more power and responsibility into the hands of local communities, and generate more community organisers, volunteers, social enterprises and small businesses:

LeapCR CEO Malcolm Scovil, said:

The aim is “to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will ‘take power away from politicians and give it to people’

“The concept of taking paid time off to work on charitable initiatives is not a gimmick and is already established in the private sector. Research has shown that employees actually want to do it and employers benefit though a more motivated workforce. In a survey carried out in April of 1,000 UK employees, 63 per cent said that they feel significantly more engaged with companies that allow charitable working. The gains for the employer are significant with increased productivity, less staff turnover, fewer sick days and a generally happier workplace.

It has a very real economic benefit to the company and is probably the most cost-effective way of companies improving their productivity – but it has to be done properly. A piecemeal approach generally doesn’t work and results in short term initiatives which take up time, quickly get forgotten and do little for staff motivation.

Instead, employers should adopt a longer term view. There is a lot we can learn from social media in corralling efforts and creating impact by bringing people together. This can be harnessed to create companywide engagement that truly adds value to society, employer and employee.”

The Primeminister rejected claims that the plans were “cover” for substantial cuts in public services due next year and that the public were either confused by or uninterested in the proposals.

“I don’t accept that people don’t understand what this is,” he said.

Everyone was aware of the “great work” that volunteers were already doing in communities up and down the country, he said, and it was his ambition to simply expand this.

“It is incredibly simple idea and one, I think, is catching on,” he said.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell labelled Mr Cameron’s speech “a brass-necked rebranding of programmes already put in place by a Labour government… We welcome the coalition’s decision to continue our work in partnership with local communities, but these projects are dependant on funding and resources being put in place”

“It is therefore highly unlikely that civil society will become ‘bigger’ due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this government.”

Voluntary groups broadly welcomed the idea but expressed concerns about how equipped they were to take on more responsibility, given that public funds were likely to be cut as part of the budget squeeze.

“It is going to be very challenging for them to play a bigger role if they have less resources to do it,” said Ben Kernighan, from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

And union leaders said public services must be based on certainty of provision and not whether there were enough volunteers on any given day.

“Make no mistake, this plan is all about saving money,” Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said.

“The government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative.”