Keynote speech by Kevin Curley CBE at V:Expo 2015, Thursday 4 June 2015


Good morning.  I’m pleased to be here.  Especially because Lincoln is my home town.

I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Harmston, a small village a few miles south of here on the road to Grantham.  My mum and dad are buried there in the beautiful church graveyard.  I went to school in Bracebridge Heath and then North Hykeham.

I didn’t realise it at the time but my whole volunteering career was shaped by the Lincolnshire Scouts.  I became a cub when I was 8, a scout at 11 and then a Cub Leader when I was 16. So it’s good to see Lincolnshire Scouts on the list.  Where are you? What a great movement.  My Group Scout Leader at Waddington – a marvellous man called Dennis Sutton who passed away just a few weeks ago – encouraged me to join CSV – Community Service Volunteers – when I finished school.  Off I went to Kent to work with men with learning disabilities on a Rudolf Steiner farm.  And then to Scope – or the Spastics Society as it was in 1969 – to accompany a severely disabled man on holiday in London for 2 weeks.  Life changing experiences for a teenager from a small Lincolnshire village in the 60s.  Thank you Dennis and the Lincolnshire Scouts.

If the detail of what I say is of interest you will find a transcript on the Involving Lincs website.  And many of the resources I mention are listed on this sheet which you will in your pack.

On a recent train journey from my Derbyshire village I opened my newspaper. One story and one advert caught my eye as I thought about the theme of this conference. Gus Bialick from Exeter is 100 years old.  Here he is (show newspaper).  He’s a volunteer with INTERGEN, a project set up in 2010 by ‘From Generation to Generation’.  They bring older people and children together in schools.  Gus brings history to life for the children by telling his own story.  He talks about the Zepellin he saw in flames over London in 1917.  About watching Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts marching in the East End.  About taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

And then I noticed an advert from ‘The Safer Living Foundation’ which works with older sex offenders in Whatton Prison in Nottinghamshire. ‘Volunteer with us to protect children from sexual harm.  Volunteers will work with an offender in prison and then regularly on release to support their reintegration into the community’.  Can there be a tougher challenge for a volunteer than that?

So this is what we do.  Through volunteers we enable children to learn from our history.  And we keep them safe.  Just one page in a newspaper makes the case convincingly for public investment in volunteers and the people who support and manage them.

I’ve been asked to talk about the consequences of the general election for our work.  About job substitution in the public sector.  And about ‘compulsory voluntary work’ for unemployed people.  And I’d like to end with some words about our shared values.

So first, the consequences of the general election for the local voluntary sector.

We don’t hear the words ‘Big Society’ any more, but the ideas at the heart of it are very much alive in the new Conservative Government.

There were three themes in the Big Society and they are all there in the Conservative election manifesto – decentralisation of power, public service reform and social action.  Let me look at social action and public service reform.

Social action includes a big expansion of National Citizens’ Service so that every 16 year old can take part in a programme of community work and personal development.  And all public sector workers and those in large private companies will be permitted to take 3 days’ off work in order to volunteer without loss of pay.  It’s hard to be against these measures isn’t it?  But the National Citizens Service is expanded just as support for the voluntary youth sector is cut in many places.  And how useful are large numbers of volunteers, available for just three days each in the year? But lest I appear unduly negative, I welcome any initiative which may encourage people to get involved in volunteering – for some a three day taster will lead to a bigger commitment.

And I hope I’m not being pedantic when I object to the use of the term ‘volunteer’ when in fact employees will be paid for these three days by their employers.  Worthwhile perhaps – but surely not voluntary work?  I think the old Volunteering England definition of volunteering still serves us well – ‘unpaid activity where someone gives their time to help an organisation or an individual to whom they are not related’.  So by all means give employees paid time off to do useful community work.  But let’s not call it volunteering.

Public service reform is still at the heart of the new government’s plans.  Many of the manifesto commitments are welcome – same day appointments with GPs for the over 75s.  An increase in real terms of £8bn for the NHS over 5 years.  An extra £150m to ensure a minimum of 2 hours’ sport and PE per week for every primary school child.  This will lead to more engagement in sports clubs and teams by young people, the single biggest volunteering activity in Britain. Good to see Lincolnshire Sport on the attendance list.  And then the government has committed to an ambitious programme of ‘pocket parks’ – small areas of inviting public space where people can enjoy relief from the bustle of city streets.  Again, a government programme that will involve many more volunteers in small scale environmental work.

So, much to be pleased about.  But the shadow which falls over all these positive plans is the size of the funding cuts we face.  The figures are awesome.  £12bn of welfare cuts and £13bn of cuts to departmental spending.  Why are these cuts relevant to those of us who manage volunteers?  We don’t know where the government will find its huge welfare savings but it has already said that housing benefit for jobless 18 to 21 year olds will be removed.  They will be expected to live with their parents.  For many reasons some young people cannot or will not do that – so I’m sure street homelessness will increase and there will be new demands on advice services, night shelters, and faith organisations that offer support to young people.  All big users of volunteers.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies is predicting that benefits for disabled people – disability living allowance, personal independence payments and attendance allowance – will be taxed.  And that child benefit will be limited to the first two children.  We know that a Bill will be introduced to reduce the cap on benefits that can be claimed by one household from £26,000 to £23,000.

Measures such as these will lead to increased poverty and higher demand for the food banks and other practical services which are so dependent on volunteers.  More volunteers in food banks, collecting and distributing donated furniture and electrical goods, working in charity clothing shops – all these will flow from welfare cuts.

We know too that there will be even deeper cuts in Council budgets.  Many local Councils lost 40% of their budgets in the period 2010 to 2015.  There is worse to come.  Unlike the NHS and overseas aid, local government spending is not protected. One of the biggest areas of spending for upper tier councils like Lincolnshire County Council is adult social care.  Care in the home is already severely rationed.  It will become more difficult to get a funded care package and many more people will be expected to pay for care.

There will be a growing need for informal care from family members, neighbours and friends and from volunteers in churches, other faith groups and community care groups.  People like the angels from the Anglican Church in Bracebridge Heath – 2 women who gave my frail mother a bath every week for 3 years before she went into residential care.  But how many angels do we have in our communities?  I believe the gap between the increasing need for home care for our ageing population and the ability of local councils to pay for it will grow ever wider.  It simply cannot be filled by volunteers and informal carers.  It is one of the greatest challenges we face as citizens, as community members and as volunteers.  I hope you will share your ideas on how we tackle this.

As local government funding is cut even more severely it’s inevitable that we will see a threat to the voluntary sector’s funding. Here in Lincolnshire Volunteer centres and Councils for Voluntary Service receive substantial grant aid each year from your County Council.  And most District Councils also provide support.

I want to acknowledge the importance of this financial support.  The sums involved place Lincolnshire County Council in the top 20% of local authorities in England and demonstrate clearly the importance Councillors and officers attach to volunteering in our communities.  So, cherish this relationship.  Make sure that elected members and senior officers know what you are doing, the impact you are having and the value for money you represent.

Local council budgets which support volunteering are at risk as central government funding is cut back.  But we have a very strong argument to make in favour of grants and contracts for local voluntary organisations, especially where volunteers are at the heart of your work.  I see Home Start on the list today – where are you?  Just look at the value represented by Home Start.  A grant of say £50,000 enables an organiser to be employed and the charity’s running costs met.  50 volunteers are recruited and trained to work with families with young children facing severe problems and stresses.  They put in at least 150 hours of volunteering each week – in direct contact with struggling parents.  That’s equivalent to 6 full time social workers who cost the council £250,000.  So a return of £5 for each £1 invested by the council in Home Start.  What a return!

And that’s before we begin to work out the impact of Home Start’s support on the families and the savings to so many parts of the state – the education service, the clinical commissioning group, the police.

And looking at the list of who’s here today I could make the same argument for the work of Age UK, Victim Support, British Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Society and many others.  And this I suggest is what we have to do.  To make the hard headed case for investment in volunteering by the council, the clinical commissioning group, the police commissioner.  Volunteering makes good sense as the glue that binds our communities together.  But it makes good economic sense too.  Your council gets more for its pound if it invests it in a voluntary organisation which uses volunteers.

Let me turn now to my second subject –  job substitution.  This describes situations where volunteers replace paid staff roles in the public sector.

Organisations having to cut costs are looking to involve more volunteers to preserve services for their users.  Moreover, the current political drive for citizens to be more involved in their communities means that public sector bodies want to involve more volunteers in new and different ways. This opening up of services to volunteers can make them more responsive to local need, and more representative of the communities they serve. Indeed volunteers’ skills and experience can bring a new dimension to local services as I’m sure you know well.

Where funding is cut, public sector organisations face massive challenges to the quality and level of their services.  There is a danger that volunteering becomes politicised in these situations, and it would be damaging to the public perception of volunteers if they are seen directly to undermine staff jobs. Therefore it is important that we take early steps to address the issue.

There are a range of scenarios that could be considered job substitution. At one extreme, a council may decide to cut jobs and recruit volunteers to fill the gaps.  The council makes its youth workers redundant and asks parents to keep the youth club open at least part time.  Or the country park rangers are made redundant and local people are asked to come forward for training as volunteer rangers.

On the other hand when a service has been withdrawn due to funding cuts, members of the community or service-users may volunteer themselves to run services which  meet similar needs.

The first case is clearly a direct replacement of paid staff, and it is therefore likely that the organisation would receive objections from staff and trade unions, and find that many volunteers do not want to be involved.

In the second case, volunteers are, to some extent, providing services previously delivered by paid staff, but now as a new group taking over the service. This service could, however, be significantly different from the one delivered by paid staff.  A village library may face closure.  The librarians lose their jobs and local people, perhaps brought together by the parish council or a community association, are recruited to keep the library open for some sessions each week.  Or some library services – book loan and access to computers say –  are moved to a vacant room in the village school.  A peripatetic librarian provides training and  technical support to the volunteers.

In all these kinds of situations, even where a new community group is proposing to take over the service, there is a need to review the public body’s services and expenditure, the relationship with the volunteer group, and the kind of roles that they can expect of volunteers.  And then the resources or training required to support them.

To prevent conflict and potential disagreements, we have available a useful agreement drawn up by Volunteering England and the TUC.

It’s their ‘charter for strengthening relations between paid staff and volunteers’.  One of the key principles of this charter is that the involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff. Volunteers should not displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service.

These principles should be used by individual organisations as a guide to develop more detailed policies, which reflect local needs and circumstances. This should be done together by local union representatives, employers and volunteering managers.

Relations between paid staff and volunteers can be enhanced by good procedures, clarity of respective roles, mutual trust and support. There are a number of practical steps that we should take to ensure the involvement of volunteers produces a positive outcome:

  1. Consult with trade unions, staff and the community on key principles for volunteer involvement.
  2. Create a volunteering policy, defining the procedure for creating new roles and solving problems
  3. Agree roles and responsibilities of volunteers
  4. Create opportunities for staff and volunteers to better understand each others’ roles

It is important that organisations address any potential issues about involving volunteers early on in the process. They are likely to be specific to your situation, but there will always be a need for consultation with staff, trade unions and the community.

If volunteers are being involved at a time when the organisation is undergoing a period of change – whether through restructure or staff redundancies – it is understandable that staff may have reservations. The consultation process should provide an opportunity to raise concerns and build consensus on how to involve volunteers.

The charter for improving relations between paid staff and volunteers drawn up by Volunteering England and the TUC is a statement of principles and good practice that we can use as a model agreement.

Organisations can benefit from thinking about how volunteers could change the nature or improve the quality of services provided. For example, volunteers may bring new ideas and different skills to the organisation or help improve connections with the community.

The Best Value Statutory Guidance  from the Department for Communities and Local Government includes a duty on statutory bodies to consult when considering decommissioning a service.  It requires local authorities to give three months’ notice when cutting funds to a voluntary organisation, in line with the Compact.  This provides an opportunity to challenge the funding cut, but also to consult on and review what kinds of roles and services could be undertaken by volunteers.

Creating a volunteer policy provides a framework for volunteer involvement. It helps define the role of volunteers within the organisation, and sets out how they can expect to be treated.

A volunteer policy should draw together all the policies and procedures that affect volunteers, which may include: recruitment, diversity, induction and training, expenses, supervision and support, insurance, health and safety, confidentiality and problem solving.

A volunteering policy helps to ensure all volunteers are treated equally and fairly. It allows volunteers to know where they stand, how they can expect to be treated, and where they can turn to if they feel that things are going wrong. It also helps ensure that paid staff, senior management and trustees fully understand why volunteers are involved, and what role they have within the organisation.

Once the principles for volunteer involvement are established, you can start to plan what volunteer roles would be valuable to the council or NHS body. For example, you may wish to set up a working group with staff representatives and individual trade unions to discuss volunteer roles and responsibilities.

Organisations should identify activities for volunteers that would support and complement the work of paid staff. Formulating volunteer roles will help staff understand what volunteers are there to do, which will improve the experience of volunteers and staff alike.

It is also important that organisations recognise volunteers differently to employees. Whereas employees are contractually obliged to work, volunteers give their time freely, and are therefore not under a contract. There have been cases in which volunteers have been found by an employment tribunal to be in effect an employee or worker due to the expectations placed upon them. This has conferred on them employment rights such as the national minimum wage. See ‘Volunteers and the law’ – it’s on the resources list.

There are specific considerations if a volunteer is in receipt of state benefits. Jobcentre Plus and HM Revenue and Customs can investigate instances of suspected ‘notional earnings’. If the claimant performs a service for someone and either isn’t paid or is paid less than for comparable employment in the area, their benefits claim could be affected.   For more information see the Directgov web page about ‘volunteering while on benefits’ – there’s a link on my list.

Any statutory body should take steps to encourage strong working relationships between staff and volunteers.  Inviting volunteers to staff meetings can help improve communication, and including them in training sessions can help build a shared understanding of your work and priorities.

In just a few minutes on the internet I found information about the Lincolnshire Compact.  This is the agreement between the public sector and the voluntary and community sector in the county.  It includes a strong statement about the value of volunteering.  It’s on the Involving Lincs website.  And then I found your County Council’s Volunteer Engagement Policy, Volunteer Supervisers’ Handbook and Volunteer Welcome Book – all on the Council’s website.  Here they are (hold up).

It’s clear to me that your Council is demonstrating good practice when it comes to its relationships with volunteers.  I suggest you make yourself aware of these policy documents – they are part of your defence when times are hard.  And – in relation to this issue of job substitution – some hard pressed public sector managers might be tempted to cut corners.

Moving on…..

I was asked to share with you some views on so called ‘compulsory volunteering’ or ‘workfare’.  The government intends to extend its ‘Help to Work’ programme for unemployed people, which includes a mandatory 6-months placement in voluntary groups linked to benefit sanctions for non-compliance.

The campaign group Keep Volunteering Voluntary has criticised the Conservatives’ pledge to force young people who are not in work, education or training to do unpaid community work such as working for local charities in exchange for benefits.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in a speech in February that 18 to 21-year-olds who have been out of work, education or training for six months would need to carry out 30 hours of work from day one of their claim in order to be eligible for benefits.

Jobseeker’s Allowance would be replaced with a Youth Allowance, paid at the same rate but limited to 6 months only for those aged under 21.

Cameron said the work – part of the party’s plan to make sure young people would not get “sucked into a life on welfare” – could include making meals for older people or cleaning up litter and graffiti.

But Keep Volunteering Voluntary – a group made up of more than 500 member organisations, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and the YMCA – said the proposal was a punishment for benefit claimants.  I see too that Lincolnshire Community Foundation has come out against the scheme.

“This is simply about making life hard for benefit claimants and trying to force people off benefits,” said Andy Benson, an organiser of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. “It’s got nothing to do with employment prospects for 18 to 21-year-olds.”

The Prime Minister said “From day one they must play their part and make an effort,” he said. “Your first experience of the benefits system should be that yes, you can get help – but it isn’t something for nothing, and you need to put something back into your community too.”

He said it was important for young people to get work experience and get into the discipline of turning up for work each day.

Keep Volunteering Voluntary was formed in opposition to the government’s Community Work Placements programme, which all of its members have pledged to boycott.  Andy Benson again: “The new proposals are yet another extension of an idea that has already proved to be unfair and unworkable. It’s unfair for benefit claimants, who should receive a wage in exchange for full-time work, and it’s unfair for charities and other voluntary organisations that require real volunteers, not people forced on them.  It has already been comprehensively demonstrated that workfare schemes do not work. They don’t increase people’s chances of getting jobs.”  Indeed this is not rhetoric – the Department for Work and Pensions’ own research showed that ‘there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work’.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the proposal was designed to give people a reason to get up in the morning. “Many people do not take the opportunity to volunteer and are unaware of this option to both improve their CVs and start to engage with people outside their usual spheres,” he said. “This will help young people to break the downward cycle of dependency.”

This really is so confused isn’t it?  It simply cannot be voluntary work if you are forced to do it and threatened with loss of your Job Seeker’s Allowance if you refuse to take part.  So it’s enforced work, not volunteering.  In which case if you are required to do it – and I can live with that – surely you should receive the statutory minimum wage. I would like to hear your views shortly.

Let me finish with something about our values as volunteers and volunteer managers.   At a time of faster and more radical change than I’ve ever known I need to hang on to some certainties.  And the values which brought me into the local voluntary sector in 1972 seem to me to be unchanged.  Back then in York as a student volunteer I looked for homeless people sleeping rough after the death of an old man in a shop doorway on a frosty November night.  This survey led to a night shelter opened by the CVS just a few weeks later on Christmas Eve and run by volunteers – from colleges, churches, businesses, charities.

A few months later I joined the multi-agency group of volunteers brought together by the CVS to welcome Asian refugees thrown out of Uganda by Idi Amin. After the humanitarian work was completed, CVS volunteers helped the refugees to set up the Ugandan Asian Refugees Association.

This is why I joined the local voluntary sector. We saw a need.  We researched it.  We organised.  We drew in volunteers from many different walks of life.  We raised money.  We acted quickly and decisively.  As volunteers we were making a difference.   And I’m sure you will be involved in issues like these here in greater Lincolnshire.

So what was it that brought you into voluntary action? Together we are here to fight poverty, disadvantage, discrimination and loneliness through local voluntary action.  We are not here to run social enterprises.  We are not here to promote partnerships or to form consortia.  We are not here to win public services contracts.  Although we do all of these things when they help us to fight disadvantage.

And so we always know whose side we are on.  We are always on the side of homeless people sleeping rough.  We are never on the side of those who say they should be removed from our city centre streets because they upset the tourists.  We are always on the side of black people and women and disabled people who face discrimination in the workplace or the school or who are terrorised in their own homes.  We are never on the side of the employer who says there are too many burdensome employment rights.  We are always on the side of refugees fleeing the latest vicious dictator.  We are never on the side of those who say that England is full.

We will always say that care and compassion matter more than punishment. We will always say that community development matters as much as economic development.  We will be proud of being charity like and we will refuse to be business like if that means the pursuit of profit for its own sake.

We will insist that the Council and the NHS and the police – all of them our natural partners – treat the voluntary sector’s leaders with respect.  If there have to be funding cuts they must made openly with the full involvement of the sector’s representatives – supported by your Volunteer Centre and your CVS – and the cuts must be proportionate.

None of this is about complacency.  We must change our organisational structures.  We must learn new skills, create new models, challenge old ways of doing things – so that we can tackle local poverty, use our knowledge to promote reform and challenge politicians and hold officials to account.  We can put social media to use for us, draw in new money and make our organisations less reliant on state funding.  We must be inventive in how we reach out and involve more people in volunteering.

But let us celebrate our unchanging values and protect them. Our tradition of combining community service with seeking change. Your values, your confidence, your belief in the power of volunteering to change people’s lives, people’s villages and people’s neighbourhoods, for the better. Your knowledge that through your Volunteer Centre and your CVS we can achieve so much more together than apart. These are our greatest strengths.  This is the real resilience in our sector as together we face hard times.  This is the certainty we must hold on to as we adapt to radical change and help our volunteers to make a difference.

Kevin Curley CBE

07970 028178          21 May 2015

Download a full list of Kevin’s recommended resources here.


Annex A: Charter for Strengthening Relations between Paid Staff and Volunteers

Volunteering England and the TUC acknowledge that on the whole, relations between paid staff and volunteers are harmonious and mutually rewarding. They can, however, be enhanced by good procedures, clarity of respective roles, mutual trust and support.  This Charter sets out the key principles to help underpin good relations in the workplace.

These principles should be used as a guide by individual organisations to develop more detailed policies and procedures, which reflect local needs and circumstances.   This should be done, wherever possible, between local union representatives, employers and volunteering managers.

Paid work is any activity that is undertaken at the direction of an employer and is financially compensable.

Volunteering is freely undertaken and not for financial gain; it involves the commitment of time and energy for the benefit of society and the community.

 Charter Principles

  • All volunteering is undertaken by choice, and all individuals should have the right to volunteer, or indeed not to volunteer;
  • While volunteers should not normally receive or expect financial rewards for their activities, they should receive reasonable out of pocket expenses;
  • The involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service;
  • The added value of volunteers should be highlighted as part of commissioning or grantmaking process but their involvement should not be used to reduce contract costs;
  • Effective structures should be put in place to support and develop volunteers and the activities they undertake, and these should be fully considered and costed when services are planned and developed;
  • Volunteers and paid staff should be provided with opportunities to contribute to the development of volunteering policies and procedures;
  • Volunteers, like paid staff, should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments that are free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, violence and discrimination;
  • All paid workers and volunteers should have access to appropriate training and development;
  • There should be recognised machinery for the resolution of any problems between organisations and volunteers or between paid staff and volunteers;
  • In the interests of harmonious relations between volunteers and paid staff, volunteers should not be used to undertake the work of paid staff during industrial disputes.
  • This Charter stands between Volunteering England and the TUC as a statement of principles and good practice. It is also a model for use by individual unions, volunteer involving organisations in the public, third and private sectors and other bodies in discussions around the use of volunteers.

C 2012

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  1. Speaker notes from V:EXPO 15 | Involving Lincs - June 8, 2015

    […] You can read a full transcript of Kevin Curley’s Keynote Speech here. […]

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