The Commission on the Future of Volunteering has finally reported. To be honest, I was a little worried about what it might come up with, given that membership of the great and the good doesn’t really mean that you know anything about anything, let alone volunteering. Not to mention Julia Neuberger’s shakiness on some basic issues.
I was pleased to see the report call for an extension of the Access to Work fund to cover volunteering. Anything that can make a material difference to the engagement of disabled people as volunteers is to be welcomed.
Bumping up volunteering into a cabinet minister’s responsibility could make a difference on policy issues. Even being sited within the Cabinet Office hasn’t seemed to help the Office of the Third Sector sort out foul ups created by other departments.
A modernisation fund for local volunteering infrastructure would be great if it could be secured – and if there is a clear plan for how this could be implemented. I firmly believe that it is vital that Volunteer Centres are adequately and securely resourced. It is a fact that some are better than others. Mostly though the reason for this is that the poorer ones are just that – poorer. Not only that, they suffer from a real misconception, that their primary if not sole aim is to match volunteers with organisations. Where they only provide a small number it’s easy for organisations and local authorities to assume that they’re failing.
In fact it’s the support for organisations and volunteer managers that VCs provide that should be celebrated and recognised. They’re there, on the ground helping people get their volunteering programmes up and running, dealing with problems, giving volunteer managers the tools they need to get by.
Work could be done to improve the brokerage side of VCs, but at the very least this would need a decent national campaign to increase awareness of the local bodies (and the resourcing for them to deliver on this). There’s no real reason why VCs couldn’t become as well known as Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, especially now they have the common branding.
The focus on training for volunteers concerns me. For a start, I’m always worried when volunteering gets seen as the means to a policy end (eg sorting out ‘the youth’). Volunteering is not a substitute for training schemes or education, let alone a reasoned approach to social problems and a redistribution of wealth and power. On top of that, I can see all sorts of potential problems if organisations start enticing people in to volunteer with the promise of training. If anyone fancies taking a test case for minimum wage, I’ll lend you a hand for a 10% cut.
Oh, and don’t get me started on employer-supported volunteering. If there is a hell I’d lay good money that Satan has a wonderful corporate social responsibility policy. Never mind the fiery pits, he did get the demons to paint a leisure centre once.
So, some good signs, some so-so ones. It will be interesting to see how the government reacts. It’s up to the sector to make sure that the good stuff doesn’t get buried.