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VOL-SECTOR-STUDIES-NETWORK  March 2007

VOL-SECTOR-STUDIES-NETWORK March 2007

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Subject:

Re: Voluntary Sector is "full up"?

From:

Jon Griffith <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

VSSN <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 3 Mar 2007 16:01:14 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Thanks to Greg again for the further prompt - the probation decision sucks,
and the stupidity is beyond belief...

But the thing I'm trying to get at about this issue (and I know it's not the
result of research, so it's place here is debatable)is: what is the worry,
for whom?

People have been expressing a variant of the worry (about voluntary
organisations' relationship with government) for ever, and voluntary
organisations have nevertheless carried on doing what they do, variably - and
that's the point, the variety.

There isn't a problem or even a task here for 'the sector', because the
'sector' - locally or nationally - isn't something that can do anything. At
the risk of echoing Thatcher, there are individual organisations...the whole
point of their independence is, they decide individually what to do, and they
make different decisions; there isn't a sectoral solution because there isn't
(and never has been) a sectoral problem.

If the opposite were true - that we could conjure an uncontested sectoral
response to the worry/problem/issue - then we would no longer be talking
about independent organisations.

So what research would it be useful to do? ideally, of course, longtitudinal
studies of the consequences of different types/degrees of engagement with
government; but it would be good enough to do retrospective studies of
contractors/non-contractors: who gained or lost what?

If I were doing this kind of study, my hypothesis would be restricted to the
way organisations are managed, ie that there is more managerial isomorphism
amongst contractors than others; whether this is a good thing or a bad thing
depends on your point or view; but I might find it's not true, because the
non-contractors may try to survive independently in a market-place through
adopting similar management strategies to those that contract.

I guess others would be more interested in policies and outcomes.

Another thing (and sorry if I've said this before)...in twenty five years
plus of consultancy, teaching, training and research with voluntary
organisations, I've only ever been asked once if I would join a management
body; this may be because I'm a peculiarly unattractive prospect as a
trustee, but I still get a different picture from the dominant one of
unavailability - it's like the kids being interviewed by radio four, eg in
Peckham, year after year, who say "There's nothing to do round here"; this is
cobblers - they have just chosen not to enagage with whatever is on offer,
maybe for very good reasons, but their claim is still not true.

Jon



-----Original Message-----
From: VSSN [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of
Greg Smith
Sent: 01 March 2007 13:33
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Voluntary Sector is "full up"?


A new heading was my attempt to get a rather different thread going but 
maybe it is not so different after all:


BBC web site reports http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6402965.stm

The government has won a vote over plans to privatise the Probation Service, 
despite a backbench revolt. MPs voted 293 to 268 in favour of the Offender 
Management Bill - cutting the government's majority from 62 to 25. Critics 
said letting firms and voluntary groups in England and Wales run services 
would increase reoffending rates and destroy "local connections".

When one's partner is someone who has worked as a probation officer for over 
20 years waking up to this news is not a pleasant experience, as it was me 
and the dog that were lightning conductors for anger directed at John Reid 
and the stupid government..

But the issue it raises for me is where will the government's expectations 
of the voluntary sector end? In one area after another they are looking to 
the third sector, the voluntary, community and faith groups to take on work 
loads, and compete for contracts that in previous times were seen as the 
natural task for the local or national state.

My own local experience in this sector is suggesting that we ought to 
recognize there is an absolutely limited capacity in the sector to do any 
more and that before long we shall need to put up signs saying "sector full 
up" or "services suspended due to staff shortages".

For example I was at a local neighbourhood management board this week, 
trying with others to move forward co-ordinated local regeneration action 
and service delivery. While I find this commendable in terms of the desire 
to collaborate and implement joined up planning, and in the desire to give 
local residents a voice in the way their locality develops, the practical 
reality is somewhat different. There were about 15 (good and committed) 
people in the room. Four or five were local residents although two of them 
draw a salary from an organisation working in the area, which is largely 
funded out of the public purse and were there in work time. The rest were 
all employees of statutory bodies or their arms length agencies, including 
the police, the city council, two registered social landlords, an FE 
college, and SRB funded community projects. Only three people were giving 
unpaid voluntary service in attending this meeting, although at least 10,000 
local residents would be eligible to be involved in the process of 
neighbourhood management. Community meetings in this city typically follow 
this pattern, despite calls for widening participation in volunteering and 
community governance, there appears to be a small pool of "active citizens" 
sometimes known as "usual suspects", and most of them are paid.

For those involved in the Third Sector research and policy making it poses 
these key questions:

1. Do we have a clear definition of what "voluntary action" means and an 
understanding that much of what goes on in the "voluntary sector" is no 
longer truly "voluntary"?

2. Are there measurable limits to the quantity of voluntary action or 
potential volunteer hours available within the population of the UK and in 
the context of other demands on peoples time, (e.g. earning a living, caring 
for self and family, being a consumer, leisure and entertainment) are we 
nearing that limit? Is any one (Institute of Volunteering Research??) doing 
research on this?

3. Given the wide range of opportunities for unpaid contributions to the 
community which choices do volunteers make? My impression is that lots of 
people offer time in sports clubs, in religious groups, in some campaigns, 
in fund raising drives and in some hobby and leisure groups, but that apart 
from the few "usual suspects" most are reluctant to engage in neighbourhood 
community action, in committee and trusteeship work for the sector and in 
anything to do with politics. I should think the data from the Home Office 
citizenship surveys bears this out, though I haven't had time to check it.

One final thought with Red Nose Day coming up. I wonder if in our celebrity 
and consumer culture we are seeing a phenomenon of "vicarious volunteering". 
In sociology of religion Grace Davie and others have argued that the typical 
form of English religion in the late 20th Century was "vicarious 
Christianity". People believed in a vague way but didn't bother to belong to 
a church or take an active role, or give more than a few pence, but expected 
the church to be there to pray for them to christen, marry and bury people 
as necessary and to offer practical help in time of need. How far is it the 
case that the general public feel warm that Lenny Henry, Bob Geldorf and 
their mates organise TV charitythons, might give a few hours of their time 
and a couple of quid to the collection, but are really quite relieved that a 
few other people are paid to deliver charitable service to the homeless, the 
refugees, the children with cancer and leaning difficulties? Is anyone doing 
current research on the contemporary culture of charity and volunteering? 
What do you think they would discover?

Greg Smith
(No longer paid as Research Fellow at Centre for Institutional Studies in 
UEL)

For up to date news of me see my new blog: 
http://gregsnewblogcredo.blogspot.com/
(Updated) home page
http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/credoconsultancy/uelhome.htm

34 Broadgate
PRESTON
Lancs.  PR1 8DU
e.mail [log in to unmask]
Phone no. 01772 827987 

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