All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering Round Up
Tuesday 3 March, House of Commons
With the general election now less than 60 days away the APPGCS hustings was bound to be a robust discussion.
Both main parties were represented, with Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson facing off against the counterpart Shadow Minster Lisa Nandy. Joining them on the panel was the Green MEP Jean Lambert. In the Chair was former-television anchorman and Chair of the NCVO Martyn Lewis.
Inevitably discussion largely focussed on the three parties laying out their plans for the sector in the case of their success in May.
Rob Wilson MP stressed the Conservative’s emphasis on “sustainability, diversity and growth” and discussed plans to diversify charity funding away from government contracts and more towards social investment and social impact bonds. His vision for civil society was one of reduced government involvement and a greater emphasis on bottom-up initiatives.
Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, made clear her understanding of the voluntary sector (her career before Westminster) with a practical analysis of the problems facing charities. She stressed the difficulties surrounding funding and the impact this was having particularly on small organisations and certain geographical areas. Her promise was that Labour would embrace civil society as a “critical friend”.
Jean Lambert MEP of the Greens stressed the importance of “civic engagement as part of a work life balance” – something that we at Benefacto really agree with. She also echoed Lisa Nandy in observing the pressure put on charities by cuts since 2010, observing that many charities felt they would “struggle to survive” the next year.
Benefacto was able to contribute to the discussion with a question to the Ministers:
£1 billion of employee volunteering time is pledged by corporate firms each year in the UK but only 17% is used.
Given the need that charities have for support in the post-recession environment, what will the next government’s Minister for Civil Society be doing to increase corporate engagement with communities?
It provoked some decent conversation. Rob Wilson somewhat evaded the critical point, focusing on how the issue of increasing the number of companies pledging time rather than actually how to get their staff engaged. He was, however, very positive about the benefits of employee volunteering for professional development; Lisa Nandy observed the distinction between making volunteering mandatory and helping employees to engage off their own back; and Jean Lambert noted the importance of genuine engagement rather than simply getting bums on seats.
We felt they all offered some perceptive insight into the nuances of employee volunteering.
Food for thought for us came from Amanda Tincknell of the Cranfield Trust who pointed out that professionals don’t have to belong to big corporates to find meaningful ways to volunteer.
We’re looking forward to the next meeting on 9 June 2015 which will be really relevant to all in the corporate volunteering world ‘Voluntary and Corporate Sector Partnership’. See you there!