Sometimes events satirise themselves. The ‘Big Society Tsar’ is to reduce his volunteering hours in order to earn more money and ‘have more of a life’. In some ways it’s refreshing – usually politicians take a step back from responsibilities in order to spend more time with their family. It’s nice to hear one wanting to spend more time with their money.
Lord Wei was appointed by David Cameron as an unpaid government advisor on the Big Society last May, and is based in the Office for Civil Society.
According to The Guardian, “Whitehall sources said that when he was invited to take the role he had expected it to be remunerated but was told only the night before that it was a voluntary post and there would be no salary.” Mind you, I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him – he got a life peerage as part of the package, and it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be able to pick up some non-executive directorships.
The story does seem to highlight the absurdity of the wider-eyed visions of the Big Society. If the person at the top is finding it hard to make ends meet while giving up a substantial chunk of their time, and feels that doing so gives them no life, how are the rest of us meant to bear up?
While this story may have an amusement factor to it, another story from the last few days makes for much grimmer reading. Volunteering England have reported that 30 Volunteer Centres are facing closure or severe curtailment of capacity. To be honest, just from the VCs I’ve had contact with, I suspect the figure is even higher. I’m not looking forward to hearing the news come in of local authority spending settlements. While there is a proposed local infrastructure fund – £42.5 million over 4 years – it will be too little too late. Good organisations will have gone under by then, committed and knowledgeable staff moved on and local organisations left floundering. New groups will have to reinvent the wheel.
This of course follows Volunteering England itself losing over half its staff. The cutting of government funding for infrastructure bodies demonstrates the hollowness of the government commitment to volunteering. Volunteering needs support. Volunteer managers need support. Without bodies to pass on accumulated good practice – and legal guidance – new and old volunteer-involving bodies alike will be left to fend for themselves.