Monday, February 28, 2011

Cameron praises social enterprise saved by Future Jobs Fund

I've been watching the documentary about the "People's Supermarket", a co-operative supermarket in north London which is owned by its members, all of whom pay a fee to join and agree to work in the shop with the aim of creating "a sustainable food cooperative that responds to the needs of the local community and provides healthy, local food at reasonable prices".

On 15th February, David Cameron went to visit it, hoping to associate this social enterprise with his plans for the "Big Society".

One thing which the documentary mentioned was that while the supermarket was trying to establish itself in the first few months, it was able to employ some young trainees through a government scheme. Without these trainees working alongside the members, the supermarket would have collapsed and gone out of business.

David Cameron and his allies often claim that the aim of the "Big Society" is to replace the "Big State". They argue that because government has got so big, it crowds out these kind of initiatives and prevents people from getting on and being self-sufficient.

But as the People's Supermarket experience shows, reality is somewhat different. Far from being crowded out, this social enterprise was able to get help from the government when it needed it. It was able to hire trainees on short term contracts with the government paying their wages, in order to get time to establish itself and get more members involved, while also giving young unemployed people a chance of a job.

The name of the "government trainee scheme" which supported the People's Supermarket was the Future Jobs Fund. The Future Jobs Fund, of course, was one of the first programmes which David Cameron's government cut.

The People's Supermarket avoided being a victim of Cameron's cuts by no more than a few months. Rather than turning up for photo opportunities and claiming that this is an example of his Big Society, he should learn the lessons and bring back the Future Jobs Fund.

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