Volunteers in Sutton could be the first to take part in Prime Minister David Cameron’s big society, but opponents have already dubbed the idea the “big con”.

Liberal Democrat-run Sutton Council has already picked controversial Sutton Life Centre – currently being built to provide citizen schooling – as a working example of Mr Cameron's bid to create communities with “oomph”.

Power and funds could also be devolved from Transport for London and the Department for Transport to volunteers on neighbourhood committees.

But union leaders, volunteers and politicians said the idea was a cover up for cuts.

Conservative Councillor Tim Crowley said: “If they use volunteers in the Sutton Life Centre it suggests it is because they need to keep their pet project afloat.

“The big society has saved the Life Centre.”

Mr Crowley questioned how the transport idea would work if one neighbourhood committee wanted to change a bus route running through several.

He said the forums could attract “busybodies that poke their noses into everything”.

He said: “Most people don’t have the extra time to get involved.”

Health campaigner John Lister, from London Health Emergency, said: “Those who usually volunteer for these forums are not the sort of people that are going to make any useful contribution; most of them are completely barking.

“It will only add to bureaucracy and delay when services are already being cut.”

Mr Cameron’s plan to empower communities could see dormant bank accounts used to fund projects. Deputy council leader Councillor Ruth Dombey said the transport project would not be frustrated by neighbourhood nimbyism because the council would still take control of ideas that spanned several neighbourhoods.

Coun Dombey said volunteers on the health forum would not be “well-meaning amateurs” but those with “a lot more expertise, such as Age Concern”.

She said the Sutton Life Centre was a community space and the council wanted to talk to people about how to use it.

Volunteering -Sutton Life Centre: Volunteers could be used in the library or to organise and design projects -Transport: Volunteers could help improve roads, bus stops and bus routes.

-Health: Volunteers could work with clinical leaders in forums to resolve issues -Hackbridge: Volunteers could take part in forums to chose and design green projects, such as the vegetable van which delivers in the area.

Bigger con One of Sutton’s most experienced volunteers said the big society idea was a cover for a big con.

Barry Todman, chairman of the London National Pensioners Convention (NPC), believes it is just another way of introducing cuts to services and placing more responsibility on volunteers without adequate resources.

He said: “Big society or big con, what does it mean? It’s not very clear at the moment. It looks like it’s different things to different people.

“My initial interpretation was ‘Let’s introduce the cuts to services, sack staff and then get volunteers to do the work’. Am I wrong?

“It’s a pity they couldn’t have more money available to put into bringing Suttons homes up to the decent homes standards, or rebuilding the schools that are desperately needed.”