DAVID Cameron wants to create “communities with oomph”, with power returned to the man and woman in the street rather than decisions being taken centrally in Whitehall.

He calls this the Big Society – more people getting involved and taking action to improve their neighbourhoods for the better.

Critics suggest the Big Society is a codeword for public sector cuts and charities and the voluntary sector taking over more responsibility from public bodies and local authorities.

But the Prime Minister is adament the Big Society will harness people’s selfless energy and allow voluntary groups to run post offices, libraries, transport services and shape housing projects.

A big supporter of the Big Society idea is new Southend councillor Louise Burdett.

Mrs Burdett, a Tory member for Kursaal ward, together with her colleague Blaine Robin, have been busy forming residents’ groups and starting petitions.

They also encourage residents to get involved in projects to keep their neighbourhood clean and get involved in fundraising events. Mrs Burdett said: “The Big Society to me means giving people the power to change communities for the better.

“Communities can come together in resident groups and neighbourhood watches and talk with so-called experts, but put forward their views.

“Southend residents know what our local area needs more than politicians in Whitehall.

“Personally, I am not so concerned about the big ticket things like running post offices.

“I want to promote projects that everyone wants to get involved with.

“I think this could be massive, potentially revolutionising the way local services are provided.”

However, some say the Big Society is an excuse for getting people to do things for free that the Government should provide.

Basildon’s former Labour MP and an ex-charities minister, Baroness Angela Smith, supported projects like Basildon’s Women’s Aid and Turning Tides, in Southend.

Mrs Smith, now a member of the House of Lords, said: “My worry is that he’s expecting the voluntary sector to pick up gaps where they’re making public sector cuts in services.

“We are all in favour of the Big Society, but volunteers can’t do it on their own.

“They can’t replace government responsibility.”

Mrs Burdett said: “It’s not about the Government letting go, it’s about the Government helping people create the Big Society.

“The Govern-ment should help facilitate access to the expertise ordinary people need to set projects up.”

Some voluntary groups and Labour have queried how the schemes will be funded, but Mr Cameron said the Government would use dormant bank accounts to fund projects.

Volunteers who run community groups have given a mixed response to the plans.

Stephanie Stamp is chairman of the Street Tough project, based at the Balmoral Community Centre, in Salisbury Avenue, Westcliff.

For the past three years, the volunteer-run scheme has been transforming the lives of children in the North Road area of Westcliff, by getting them fit and healthy, free of charge.

Mrs Stamp said: “I’ve come to the conclusion that the more people are handed, the less they’re inclined to do things for themselves.

“I think it’s a very good idea to encourage people into voluntary work.

“But there’s only so much people can do for themselves.

“I’m slightly uneasy at the prospect of initiatives that really should be government-led being fobbed off onto local communities.

“We need resources, even if we have the energy and know-how.

“Here at the Balmoral Community Centre, it’s a full-time job.

“It’s too much to ask for volunteers to give that much commitment for so long.”

Community pastor at Southend Vineyard, Simon Matthews, runs the Storehouse project, which offers clothes, food parcels, tea, coffee and meals to people in need.

The project, based at the Coleman Street Community Centre, has seen the number of people turning up rocket from just 200 a year to 1,500 at the moment.

Mr Matthews said: “If the Big Society does what it says on the tin, it will be fantastic.

“But if David Cameron will just take funding from the public sector and expect the voluntary sector to pick up the baton, I don’t think it will work.”

Mr Matthews called for increased grants for voluntary groups and said funding should be shifted from public sector middle management.

He added: “That would help equip voluntary organisations.

“At the moment, we are doing things on a shoestring. We do lack training, but it’s amazing what gets done.

“The breach between the voluntary and public sectors needs to be bridged. We can work together to increase productivity.”