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What the Conservatives are proposing now is to reduce funding for the voluntary action lottery fund, compared with the Big Lottery Fund, by about 16 per cent. At the moment, 84 per cent. of all Big Lottery Fund money goes to voluntary sector organisations in one way or another—67 per cent. goes in directly, and another element goes to voluntary sector organisations through the arts and sports bodies and so on. The Conservative document proposes to top-slice that 16 per cent. and says that we will only have a voluntary action lottery fund that operates according to different rules, to which I shall return in a moment. The Conservatives forget that an undertaking has
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been given by the Big Lottery Fund, backed by the Government and in response to the arrangements on Olympic funding, that the real level of funding to voluntary sector organisations in 2009, when they feel the temporary impact of Olympic funding on the Big Lottery Fund, will remain at least at current levels. It is not possible to do that if the size of the Big Lottery Fund is cut by 16 per cent. to get a leaner, slimmer voluntary action lottery fund.

Susan Kramer: I did not raise the Big Lottery Fund because it seemed outside the remit of volunteering, but there is one concern. If the fund only funds the charitable sector and not the statutory organisation that would normally form a partnership with the voluntary sector, it is not possible to have a coherent project. I have raised that issue with the Minister—it cuts both ways—with regard to the impact of the Olympics.

Tom Levitt: The hon. Lady is absolutely right about that, which is why we have to accept that it is valid for the Big Lottery Fund to fund partnerships as well as directly funding voluntary organisations.

The voluntary action lottery fund would be guided by a slightly different set of principles than what has gone before. The Conservatives tell us that there will be more grants for local charities and community groups, but that everything done by that fund will have to take into account the reputation of the lottery. I do not know what that means. I suspect that it means, “Unpopular causes? Bye bye—you won’t get funding from the Big Lottery Fund.” In the “Breakdown Britain” document published by the Conservatives in 2006, they talked about consultation on where funding should go, and of having referendums on where it should go. If we were to do that, we would be discriminating against the less popular causes such as, as I said earlier, asylum seekers, those with HIV/AIDS, and refugees. Those groups would almost certainly miss out.

We come to the question of additionality. The document prays in aid the former Community Fund, which the document calls the communities fund, wishing that we could go back to its halcyon days. I think that the Conservatives forget who the biggest critic of the Community Fund was—for political correctness, doing the Government’s bidding or non-additionality. The biggest critic of the Community Fund was the Conservative party, but now it prays it in aid. We should welcome the return of a sinner, I suppose.

The National Lottery Act 2006 put paid to the question of additionality and complementarity in lottery and state funding. We have always had a system of complementary funding rather than additional funding, but that distinction is now clearer. Since it was set up, the Big Lottery Fund has had much more discretion and independence and has been able to demonstrate more effectively that additionality is the order of the day, and not the subsidising state mechanisms, which was the accusation made in the past. I fear for lottery funding if the Conservative plans were to come into effect.

When looking at the ancestry of the Conservative document, I referred back to notes that I made about “Breakdown Britain” when that was published by the
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Conservative party in December 2006. Its very name demeans what is good about our society, our people and the fabric of the communities that hold us together; it is a title of hopelessness and despair, when there is so much out there to celebrate.

“Breakdown Britain” was highly critical of larger charities—the Conservative party does not like the big boys in the voluntary sector. In that document, the Conservatives hinted that assets that they calculated were worth £35 billion, which were collectively held by the major charities, should be disbursed. That does not appear in their new document as far as I can see, but I should be grateful if, when he winds up the debate, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells confirmed that that is no longer his party’s intention, or at least that that recommendation in “Breakdown Britain” has not been taken up, because that would be disastrous. Let me ask the House, how could a small, local organisation do what, for example, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People did when, working as a partner with the Department of Health, it delivered a £95 million programme to provide digital hearing aids through the NHS? That could not have been done by a small, local voluntary organisation; it had to rely on a larger body.

Across the House, we recognise that three quarters of all Britons have volunteered at least once in the past 12 months and that half of our population volunteers monthly. We cannot ignore the sector—it is huge, as is its capacity to influence the success of implementation of Government policy and even the outcome of a general election, to be frank.

That brings me to the question of campaigning. I was on the management board of the citizens advice bureau in my constituency in the early 1990s, when the CAB was threatened with loss of Government funding—it received grants directly from the then Department of Trade and Industry—if it continued to challenge Government policy on matters such as benefits. That was wrong. It was an abuse of power by the Government of the day. I am delighted to say that legislation was not needed to correct that—all we needed was a change of Government—but when the Prime Minister tells the country that the voluntary sector is the voice for the voiceless, we must listen. I am certain that my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions listen to bodies such as the citizens advice bureaux, because their feedback on how Government policy is or is not working is essential to our understanding of the effect that the Government are having on the people whom we have the privilege to govern.

The so-called third sector encompasses not only volunteers in the classical definition, but the increasingly important community sector. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office knows of my interest in that. I applaud what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is doing to recognise the way in which volunteers and activists within communities can and should prevent any tendency to a one-size-fits-all approach and make sure that local communities get the quality of services that they need.

We should also celebrate the success of the not-for-profit sector in general, including social enterprises and co-operatives, and in particular community interest
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companies. Established by the Charities Act 2006, community interest companies are run, often by volunteers, for purposes that are wholly consistent with those of the voluntary sector and are not directed by Government at all. Their work is very welcome.

The image of volunteering has been modernised as its depth and diversity have increased. It is much more organic than the brigade of charity shop volunteers, volunteer drivers and fete organisers who have been mentioned. It includes trade union activists, magistrates, special constables and all those people who came together to make poverty history in 2006. The sector also delivers a huge proportion of this country’s residential care and funding for medical research and the lifeboat service, and it acts as a champion for children, disabled people and animals. Voluntary action can be passive—signing petitions or postcards, or sponsoring a fundraising event—or active. The services that volunteers provide can be stand-alone or complementary to services provided by the public sector; they can even be integrated within public sector provision. I challenge anyone to go for an out-patient appointment at a typical acute hospital and not encounter several volunteers providing key services as they always have done, whether by raising money for a new machine, making tea, selling flowers, or carrying X-rays from one department to another. Volunteers are everywhere, and any policy on the voluntary sector must recognise its huge diversity.

Where I want to praise the Conservative document published yesterday is on its unequivocal statement that voluntary action must be voluntary. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families about that, and I believe that I have received an undertaking in response to the sector’s worry that by integrating volunteering too far into the curriculum, its voluntary nature is lost, which can reduce the quality of the experience. Although it is difficult, by and large schools manage to encourage and practise active citizenship, which is not quite the same as volunteering, although it certainly includes volunteering. We must find ways to encourage, promote and give young people opportunities to experience active citizenship without treading on the sector’s toes and making people volunteer.

My conclusions on what I want to see in future come in several sections and I suspect that they will find favour on all three Front Benches. In service provision, it should be easier for the voluntary sector to compete with the private and public sectors, either through contracts or through partnership. Means should be found better to ensure that full cost recovery is built into such contracts—at the moment, that cannot be guaranteed, in part because of the skills set available in the sector. The length of contracts should be extended—that has happened and is happening, but it should continue. Now, the lottery sometimes gives five-year grants for programmes, instead of the three-year, two-year or one-year grants that used to be the norm in local government. Local government now has three-year funding, so there is no reason why it should not fund local projects on a three-year basis, rather than the traditional one-year basis.

The next group of conclusions deals with the other funding of volunteering, outside service provision. Better communication is needed within the sector and between the sector and its partners to ensure more
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equitable and transparent access to grants and funding streams. It is essential that the sector has a healthy organisational core and a diverse funding base. I am excited by some of the work that has been done on endowments, and the organisation that I chair—the Community Development Foundation—is working with the Office of the Third Sector on that and other schemes. Endowment, combined with social ownership of assets within communities, is a way to ensure independence and sustainability of funding, especially for smaller organisations.

We need to find ways to promote both giving generally and payroll giving. A minute ago, I said that we should not force people to volunteer, but let us make it a bit easier for them to be payroll givers, especially in the light of the welcome announcement in the Budget that the effect of the reduction in income tax will not be felt on gift aid for three years. Nevertheless, it will be felt in three years and we need to find ways to mitigate that. If we have changed the basis of funding by that time and, through diversity of funding, are not so reliant on gift aid, so be it. If gift aid is so big that the difference will not cause much damage, so be it.

We must fulfil our responsibility to promote volunteering as an end in itself. It is a healthy thing for people to do. I find that the communities that do not work are those where the community and voluntary sectors do not exist. That is as true in developing countries as it is in parts of Britain. We need to do more work to encourage the voluntary sector in some of our developing country partners, where resources are often not recycled in the community in the way in which the voluntary sector can achieve.

I applaud the moves that the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned, of which I was not aware, on the five days’ volunteering in some Departments. Let us keep on with that, encourage other employers to take—dare I say it?—an American approach to volunteering and make corporate commitments, which people in companies deliver in their own time.

There must be absolute clarity at the interface between benefits and volunteering, and improved user-friendliness of the Criminal Records Bureau system. I welcome the announcements that have been made and understand that there are more to come in the summer. Formal recognition of skills acquisition must also be available.

It is an exciting time for the sector. It is good to see the consensus that has largely been expressed today. However, I find it difficult to forget that someone, who shall remain nameless, once said that there was no such thing as society, and I do not intend the House to forget it. As Members of Parliament, we all know that we have thriving voluntary sectors in our constituencies and we ignore them at our peril. We engage with them because they are what citizenship is about and because that is what we should do.

3.2 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I am concerned about the organisation that distributes half of all lottery cash—the Big Lottery Fund. It expends a huge sum each year on administration and staffing costs, yet, when questioned about it, Sir Clive Booth, the head of the fund, launched an attack on the Conservative party, saying that it was hostile to the
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voluntary and community sectors. Sir Clive gravely misrepresented the Conservative party, but it would be uncharitable not to accept his apology. He conceded that he had made errors, based on an

Perhaps it is therefore our responsibility to educate him about such matters. I suggest that he read our excellent report on social justice, which was launched yesterday. Above all, the incident is a clear reminder that people in Sir Clive’s position must remain impartial, despite their political leanings.

To volunteer means to offer oneself or one’s services by choice and without being forced. The Government do not force people to volunteer, but once they have volunteered they are often forced to do things that they would not choose to do. They have to tick endless boxes, for which they cannot understand the need.

On the Isle of Wight, we are very fortunate. We have a strong community spirit and many people become involved in voluntary work. I witness at first hand the astounding work that volunteers carry out. I know that, without volunteers, many islanders would be stuck. That is why I support my right hon. and hon. Friends’ attempt to strip away the endless and often mindless bureaucracy that handicaps those who are simply trying to help others.

The Government seem to mistrust anything that they did not invent and seek to control and micro-manage it into submission. The voluntary sector has been corroded little by little, leaving well-meaning souls wondering what they have done wrong. The work that they carry out has been underrated and undermined, and their roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-on-with-it mentality has been replaced with red-tape handcuffs.

If we want our communities to stay strong and our society to flourish, we must allow volunteers to get back to basics and get on with what they do best—volunteering, without the interference of Whitehall. From school governors drowning in paperwork to scoutmasters jumping through hoops for the Criminal Records Bureau, we need to let people who want to help others simply get on with it.

The YMCA on the island has just carried out research on young volunteers for the rural community council. It identified overbearing bureaucracy as one of the key factors that put young people off volunteering, as well as a lack of understanding of its value. I think that those two ideas are connected. If one gives one’s time voluntarily, one wants to feel that one has made a real difference to somebody’s life, not merely become involved in a paper-chasing exercise.

The research also demonstrated that smaller organisations succeed better in utilising volunteers by keeping paperwork and bureaucracy to a minimum. We need to encourage that. After all, if we do not succeed in attracting young people into volunteering, our society will never regain the idea that volunteering is valuable and useful.

It is right that charities and social enterprises should have the chance to receive public funds in return for helping to solve difficult social problems. However, the approach needs to be different and sensitive to their needs. They are not another branch of local government—they are different and they need to be treated differently.

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We should recognise the need for longer-term contracts so that organisations can plan for the future with certainty. Local government and national Government get to know the work of charities and voluntary bodies over time. They should be able to trust them to make good use of public funds. There should be more grants and fewer contracts. If one trusts an organisation to do a good job, one does not need to specify in minute detail how it should be done.

When contracts are needed, they should be based on outcomes rather than processes. It should be recognised that those organisations are rather special. Model contracts should be available so that successful smaller charities can have the chance to put public money to good use. They are currently often excluded from the process because they do not have legal expertise and cannot afford to employ staff to ensure compliance.

Volunteering can take many forms. All hon. Members have taken part in and benefited from the voluntary ethos. Where would our political parties be without those who stuff envelopes, lend their gardens for social events, such as the annual True Blue party in Seaview, and trudge the streets in winter and summer? I do not believe that there should be more public funding of political parties. It could never replace such involvement and commitment.

I take the opportunity to thank those residents of the Isle of Wight who volunteer and support all our local political parties. Indeed, I pay tribute to all volunteers, most of whom have nothing to do with politics.

I do not suggest that the Government are not well intentioned. We all recognise the vital part that volunteers play in our society. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that the annual benefit to the UK economy of volunteering is £27.5 billion. That is irreplaceable. Volunteering is also an enriching experience for those who take part. As well as knowing that they are helping others, volunteers often benefit from learning new skills and finding a new circle of friends.

To be fair, the Government are facing up to some of the problems. For example, they are making moves to improve the system of Criminal Records Bureau checks. I applaud that, but they need to move faster.

In preparation for speaking in this debate, I contacted Michael Bulpitt, the chief executive of the rural community council on the Isle of Wight. I asked him what he thought the Government should do to encourage volunteering. His answer was succinct and characteristically forthright: “Both volunteers and the voluntary sector know what they want to do—just let us get on with it.” I commend his advice to the Minister.

3.10 pm

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt). My hon. Friend spoke warmly of his constituents and his personal experience. The hon. Gentleman and I spent many hours on Baroness Neuberger’s commission. I pay tribute to his extensive knowledge of the subject and his deep commitment to it.

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