If our likely-next-PM is to be believed then the future will all be about “small Government/big people”. The voluntary sector would pick up where the state had failed under plans put forward by the Conservative Party. Cynically you could just see this as a way of telling us that our education system will no longer be in the hands of Educational Professionals because there is no money to pay them. Since the bankers broke the country there is no money to pay the healthcare professionals to run the national health service. Therefore it is up to you and Doris next door to put in your spare time to prop up services the tax payer has already paid for. Your hard-earned tax pounds will now be spent on interest charges on an unsustainable debt. Yet no one talks about re-engineering our money system. Certainly the Conservatives don’t appear to be talking about breaking up the large Banks nor the enforced separation of a Banks High Street lending and Investment activities. It was left to the Libe-Dems to propose that whilst the Conservative talked about Barack Obama-style Bank Taxation.
Now, this is not a political point we are trying to make. The point is that there is something essentially ‘right’ about any Government supporting the voluntary sector – be it workers in Hospice Charity Shops or volunteers in the Transition Town movement. But we do not believe empowerment is a problem. Funding is. Also we have poor examples. Since the post-carbon community institutions are hardly yet in place then these plans use examples close to the hearts of Daily Mail readers, ie, Health and Education. When David Cameron talks about the voluntary sector he doesn’t appear to be talking about the sort of volunteering you and I think of. Is caring for your elderly grandfather included? Probably not. Do plans mean that volunteers will get their expenses paid out of the public purse? No. Will Local Government cover voluntary groups under a group insurance scheme for third party liability and offer free legal services? Certainly not. Will there be funding for groups to take on full-time staff? Definitely NOT! In fact it is the same old voluntary sector doing more, for less. Now was this the sector to blame for the collapse of the City of London Financial Markets? No. Are they going to pick up the tab? Yes.
So what should the next Government do? What is really useful? The principle of encouraging the voluntary sector is perfectly healthy. The point with the voluntary sector is that it can do MORE with LESS. Not more with nothing. Take our partnership with the Wycombe Strategic Partnership. We will be able to implement a Local Food directory or Energy Monitor lending for a fraction of the price that it would cost local government. But these project still need some funds. This funding has collapsed. Just look out the five-figure sums being granted to organisations around the Town just a few years ago. Even the recent Wycombe Friends of the Earth plastic bag project had a four-figure grant in 2009. By 2010 the grants have dwindled to just £500 per project. We are grateful for every penny but it needs more and it needs to be targeted carefully to build the post-carbon community. A post-carbon community is the resilient and cohesive community of Tory dreams. But the political talk is not of ‘funding’ – it is of ’empowerment’. That we are not lacking. We sit down and happily talk with local Government regularly. That bit is easy. What we need is help-in-kind. We need more ‘agency-style’ agreements where we go out and fulfill Local Government responsibility in return for Council support – monetary and otherwise, ie, legal and insurance. The Conservatives’ plans were relayed in the media as if they were going to cut back red-tape. Again this probably is not such a big deal. It remains to be seen in practice what this results in.
If they become the next Government then the sort of talk is promising. At the 19th April Hustings in High Wycombe Steve Baker did make a throw-away comment about Transition Town members being natural Tory voters. We don’t know about that – we state no preference! However, point well made. We are a grass-roots organisation built on people-power to get things moving. However it will take more than talk about empowerment and cutting red tape to reawaken the voluntary sector. The talk has to be about leveraging Council services. We need basic funding. We need recognition of our underlying value-add. We need imaginative partnerships with frameworks which make it a win-win scenario. Maybe such a model for a future partnership can happen here.
Above all else we still do need to engage with the political process. And that starts with voting.