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Investment is Needed in Order for the Big Society to Flourish

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Sunday 13th February 2011

Speaking to The Andrew Marr Show, the Archbishop also said everyone should be concerned about spending cuts as they will be very deep and cause "quite a lot of difficulty."

The transcript of the interview follows between Andrew Marr (AM) and John Sentamu (JS):

AM: We've been all engrossed in what's been going on in Egypt. Do you think that there is any chance the democracy wave might start to rumble its way through parts of Africa?

JS: Well I hope it will but in terms of Zimbabwe – I think that will be difficult because a lot of people are refugees living in huge numbers in South Africa, and Mugabe has, what you might call softened the people by the brutality of his regime. It really feels like a broken nation in hearts and minds so I can't see what has been happening in Tahrir Square will happen in Zimbabwe

AM: Mugabe is now talking about another election coming shortly; there is an atmosphere one reads of growing intimidation again

JS: I am very worried. But there is to be an agreed new constitution that is going to be put in place because of the power sharing. The South African Development Agency must work hard, and particularly President Zuma, to ensure that he has got to assist people. So that if an election takes place, they will need some observers at least six months before the election and six months after because of the brutality of the regime.

AM: It is difficult to keep people focused on Zimbabwe when it's such a long running and slow crisis as it were. There has not been that explosive moment when Mugabe goes and it looks like it may not happen.

JS: I think he will go. I want to get my dog collar back! I think he will go. But you are absolutely right, because it's so slow, it's like watching a slow death, it takes a long time. You said it yourself, will it be today or tomorrow, but I am sure that Mugabe will definitely go. But what he is going to leave behind is a legacy of a country that has been pillaged, now that they have discovered new diamonds which he is trying to help himself, the army and the police.

AM: It's a terrible thing when a country discovers diamonds...

JS: The same with oil. But I am absolutely certain that the people of Zimbabwe will get their country back.

AM: Can I ask about matters nearer to home? You famously said on the Big Society that the Church has been doing this for a couple of thousand years, but are you concerned about the level of the cuts that are being imposed and the speed of it, and its effect on voluntary organisations and the Third Sector?

JS: I think everybody has got to be concerned and I don't think that Kenneth Clarke was speaking out of turn when he said that once these cuts begin to come, they will be very deep and they will cause quite a lot of difficulty. For instance, the building programme to restore some terrible housing in Liverpool has now been halted, which will mean people will still be living in squalor. And those voluntary groups that depend on funding may have to close their doors so there are many areas of real concern. The Big Society if you believe its right has got to build capacity and investment has got to go into it. You just can't simply say we are going to have a wonderful volunteering group without it. We need a body of principle which will allow us to motivate and to judge properly. Every man and woman is made in God's image and each is of equal worth. Society is built around being both enterprising and creative, but also allowing individuals to flourish. The balance of work is not just about making money as an end in itself, it's about building cohesive communities. Really in the end it's about building a relationship with God and each other and that requires a lot of effort.

AM: Why do you think in this country that we've been so slow to come forward on the volunteering side and the big society is something that everyone says that they are in favour of and yet we're not very good at it?

JS: I suspect that one of the beauties of the welfare state was that it made sure that nobody falls between two stools. It had a fantastic safety net. What should have actually happened hand in hand with that was people being helped should have also been told to give something back in society, and then volunteering would have happened more easily. But as we're going through difficulty, economic downturn and the recession which has not really gone away. The banks are still not lending and everything seems a little wobbly. May we all please people of Britain, realise that we are in this together and let us try to help one another.

AM: It does not feel for some that we are in this together, for the bank bonuses this week. Vince Cable said that they were inappropriately large; would you go further than this?

JS: I think that they are obscene. You have to remember that some of these banks were bailed out by the tax payer. They still owe the taxpayer money and these bonuses are happening. The Government ought to do something tougher about this. The trouble we have is this unbelievable self belief that if we tax people more then they will leave this country, it was the same cry when minimum wage was introduced, and they never did. You have to have a little bit more conviction that these banks can't simply luxuriate themselves on the backs of the poor while the rest of us are having a tough time.

Later in the programme, addressing Tony Blair and the Archbishop of York...

AM: One of the things we didn't talk about earlier on was gay marriage in Church. (To Tony Blair) Your government was very much associated with more rights and so on. What do you think of it, it's a tricky one...?

JS: Well I was in the House of Lords when the Human Rights Act was being debated and at the end Lord Alli moved an amendment which gave permission to those organisations or Churches that wanted to bless civil partnerships.

AM: So we are allowing institutions like Churches to do this, but not telling them what to do...

JS: I think the amendment itself does not do that. It simply talks about Churches not individuals – I believe in a liberal democracy we can't have rights which trump other rights, that is not what equality is about.

To watch the Andrew Marr show online- visit

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