Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Volunteers, the unlimited big society resource/The big society tax

This post was prompted by a BBC Gloucestershire article that reports because of the cuts to their funding by councils, charities are warning they are going to rely even more on the voluntary sector:


65% of the charities surveyed are cutting staff and a third are planning on increasing their use of volunteers. Considering charities are mostly staffed by volunteers already, the question has to be asked, where are all the extra volunteers going to come from?

In Oxfordshire, 21 of the 43 libraries are having their staffing cut by various percentages. A conservative estimate of the volunteers required to staff these libraries is around 500. They will of course have the "support" of the council who will train them in health and safety, use of the expensive self service machines (pointless in a small rural library) and they will be treat as a member of staff. There is a rather lengthy 11 page job description, which looks exactly like the paid job but without the wages. OCC have refused at every stage to put a estimate on how many volunteers are required, which is either a lie or they really don't know and this means that have no idea how much of the 313k is really a saving. I think the saving will be nothing looking at the work required by them to implement this and the extra staff in the back office they are hiring.

The main point from the survey in Gloucestershire is if the charities are going to require more and more volunteers then something has to give, the voluntary sector isn't a unlimited resource. It will be inevitable that if people are forced into volunteering to save a statutory library service then their time and skills will be sorely missed by a charity desperately in need of volunteers when their funding has also been cut and are forced to rely more heavily on the big society.

Libraries are a statutory service and the service should be comprehensive and efficient for all that want to use it, forcing volunteers to provide this service to themselves, at a time when volunteers are going to be desperately needed elsewhere is wrong. In forcing the volunteers without a choice to subsidise the statutory service with their time and skills, the big society is nothing more than a new tax. I thought Tories were anti tax?

A quote from Cameron on the Big Societytm

"This is not about trying to save money, it is about trying to have a bigger, better society."   

Well in forcing a dwindling pool of volunteers to run libraries and in all likelihood starving cash strapped charities of volunteers you are contributing to a worse society and in Oxfordshire's case, without saving any significant money, if any.

And finally, a volunteer isn't a volunteer if they are given no choice. The OED defines a volunteer as:

"a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task"

I don't remember freely offering to provide a statutory service to myself that I have already paid for.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Twitter and external comms

Oxfordshire County Council have finally started to use their twitter account for something other than tweeting pointless (mostly to me anyway) press releases. They have been tweeting about if the gritters are out or not and if icy roads are expected. Since I moan about them all the time I thought a "well done" was in order. I hope this is the start of OCC using twitter properly. It is probably the most powerful communications tool available now and there are so many great ways it can be used to get information to people. Other ideas for them could be:

  • Live traffic updates
  • School closures
  • Live tweeting of council meetings
  • Twitter debates on a hashtag with councillors and officers answering questions from the public
  • Bus delays

These are just off the top of my head at 11:30 at night, there are probably loads of extra things I haven't thought of and will add more if and when they occur to me. The Oxford mail have stolen a march on them by tweeting about schools that have been closed because of the snow. I don't know if they got this information from the schools directly or from the OxfordshireCC, either way the council should have this information before anyone else.

Not only could they separate out these things with hashtags, they could have separate account for them and people who are interested in traffic can follow and have text alerts whenever the account tweets. It has to be used carefully of course, I wouldn't use it like that if it was the endless stream of other things on the account.

Twitter can be a great thing for improving democracy and getting all the huge amounts of information OCC have to the people that need it. I only hope they and the councillors have the wit to use it.

I hate visio but have do a very quick and simple diagram: