THE Archbishop of York has slammed the Coalition’s social agenda, suggesting its Big Society vision has “vanished without trace” and calling for local democracy to be “freed from the shackles” of central Government.

Speaking in the North-East tonight (Monday, April 22), Dr John Sentamu said: “Real democracy is not decided by a diktat in Whitehall – it is informed, nurtured and realised in the lives of ordinary people living in the local community.

“We need a fundamental shift in the way that we understand local democracy in this country.”

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He called for a “long, hard think about our values and priorities” and said more than new laws would be needed.

Addressing the annual meeting of Sunderland City Council at Washington Old Hall, Dr Sentamu said: “I am concerned about the loss of vision. Where is The Big Society, that once-trumpeted flagship policy of David Cameron?

“This concept of The Big Society appears to have vanished without trace. No politician refers to it any more.

“Was it simply a sound-bite, a ruse that played well with focus groups but that was easily pushed aside when put under greater scrutiny?”

“The cynic might suggest that it wasn’t so much a celebration of a thriving society where everyone looks out for their neighbour, but rather a ploy to get community groups to pick up the cost of local government cuts.

“However, I hope that it was in fact a genuine attempt to move society forward – aiming to unite communities in a common cause.”

Dr Sentamu is on a two-day visit to the Durham diocese. Today (Monday, April 22), he visited the new Northern Saints CofE Primary School, in Sunderland, along with Sunderland College and Sunderland Minster.

Tomorrow, he will visit Stockton Parish Church and meet asylum seekers. He is also due to visit Durham Prison.

As Durham is currently looking for a new Bishop, following the selection of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Sentamu, whose Northern province includes the Durham diocese, is being accompanied by the Right Reverend Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow.