Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Volunteers in the community: 'doing jobs for free' or 'empowering communities to take local action'?

To what extent should we be 'doing it ourselves' and to what extent should we be asking the state/government/council to do it?

There is quite a tradition of 'volunteering' in the UK and US:
Voluntarism (action) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Resources: Why is volunteering important? - idealist.org

It could also be called 'civil society':
Civil society - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Civic Voice

And yet there are possibly ulterior motives at work:

Voluntarism or new slavery?

While some would still argue that a more prominent role for the third sector is a good thing, by ‘bridging the gap’ between the state and the market and between the government and society, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this “institutional fix”, as some commentators have described it, has enabled the state to protect its legitimacy and maintain its control, while avoiding responsibility and cutting costs under the guises of ‘flexibility’ and ‘innovation’. What’s more, this steady encroach by government on voluntary and community organisations, through such mechanisms as government contracts and partnerships, has managed to ‘professionalise’ many of these organisations, with all the usual political side effects: closing down any scope for real, radical change or state-critical thought, much like the corporate philanthropy of big foundations has done with other organisations and social movements. Jennifer Wolch calls this “para-state apparatus” that carries out welfare state functions the “shadow state”, while others have dubbed the process the “voluntary” or “community turn.”

Voluntarism or new slavery? | Corporate Watch

There is a distinctly political, if not ideological, agenda:
Mike Konczal for Democracy Journal: The Voluntarism Fantasy

The question is whether 'charity' and 'philanthropy' are simply another form of top-downism... or whether people can 'be allowed to just get on with it':

The state must cede power the right way

The latest row over free schools demonstrates the pitfalls of indiscriminate decentralisation. Now it's time to focus on the needs of those who use public services

Debates about reforming public services tend to be couched in jargon such as "contestability" and "co-design" rather than the simple language of better health, education and care. But at heart, there are two basic prescriptions politicians turn to: investing more money and telling frontline services what to do with it; and giving power away. Which is in favour has less to do with ideology and more with circumstance. Only 10 years ago, there was a political consensus that extra investment in health and education was what was required. Now, with budgets being slashed, it's perhaps no surprise that giving power away is back in vogue.
For the right, it's about breaking down centralised control via market forces, with private and voluntary sectors competing to provide services. The left's favoured version is democratic devolution to the community level, enabling more people to get involved in shaping and running their local services. Everyone's seemingly a winner: politicians get to set out an agenda without saying exactly what they would do. Social innovators, freed from government bureaucracy, get to transform their communities. Members of the public get better-quality schools, hospitals and care homes.
All well and good in theory.
To produce its purported benefits, the right's version of decentralisation depends on an army of local government officials highly skilled in writing complex, performance-based contracts with companies and charities, and savvy consumers of public services, happy to shop around and switch hospitals and schools in the same way they would supermarkets. But officials who really understand how to contract with the private sector are the exception, not the norm, and it's far more difficult to switch your child's school than energy provider.
The left's favoured version depends on local democracy robust enough to prevent special interest groups capturing services for their own ends. Yet the English appetite for local democracy is renowned for its lack of lustre. 
Most people are pragmatic about who runs their services, so long as they are good and responsive. But too often, there isn't a culture of publicly funded services listening to their users, using their feedback to drive improvements in what they do on a day-to-day basis, something that businesses must do to survive.
If they really want to transform poor and average services, our governing classes should avoid the distraction of cooking up new ways of giving power away and focus instead on getting the next generation of public service leaders signed up to this agenda. The oversimplistic and highfalutin political debate on decentralisation – pitting Fabian top-downism against letting 1,000 flowers bloom – feels a million miles from the reality of too many people getting services that aren't quite good enough.

The state must cede power the right way | Observer editorial | Comment is free | The Observer

Back in the summer, the Local Government Association proposed a scheme to encourage members of the public to volunteer their services:
Local Government Association calls for council tax discounts for volunteers | Third Sector
Give volunteers £100 off their council tax bills, say local authorities - Telegraph
Community volunteers should receive council tax discount – or should they? | Voluntary Sector Network | Guardian Professional

Today's Guardian asks how local authorities will be able to afford social care - and whether this can be 'shared':
Could sharing of social care responsibilities help councils cut costs? | Social Care Network | Guardian Professional

With councils increasingly penniless, they are now actively turning to volunteers - to ask them to carry out work formerly done by council employees:

SIDMOUTH: Council tax payers asked to volunteer to do jobs for free

29th October 2014
by Jack Dixon jack@pemedia.co.uk

MILLIONS of pounds worth of funding for highway maintenance is to be slashed from county council budgets this winter – and Sidmouth residents will be asked to pick up the extra work for restocking grit bins and a raft of other jobs.

Snow clearing, weed treatment and grass cutting services will all be cut back, as highways bosses look to save a total of £3.4 million to keep pace with the government’s austerity measures. And residents are being encouraged to make up the difference by volunteering as community ‘road wardens’ to ensure maintenance work is carried out.

The council says it is looking to recruit an “army”  volunteers to clear weeds, scrub signs and even carry out small pothole and road surface repairs. The scheme has already won the backing of the Devon Association of Local Councils, and individual authorities would nominate wardens to represent the town.

Sidmouth councillor Stuart Hughes, the county council’s cabinet member for highway management, said the authority has to find a “different approach” to tackling problems on the roads and around the town, with “massive pressure” mounting on local government budgets. He said: “Devon County Council’s revenue budget is being reduced year by year, and we don’t receive enough money to keep doing all of the routine work, or do some work as frequently as we have been able to do in the past. Our budget is being spread extremely thinly across the area. We need to find a different approach by calling on the help of local communities and we are looking to respond positively to offers of help that we have received from local communities. Having reflected on some successful self-help schemes already completed, we have developed a scheme to enable our communities to work with us - we want to empower communities to take local action.”

Elsewhere in Devon, town and parish councils have bought their own lawnmowers to cut grass verges and held ‘tidy town’ days where members of the community take part in a mass de-weeding exercise. And residents in nearby Harcombe have even carried out road repairs themselves, as the county council looks to reduce its £758 million highways backlog.

Cllr Hughes added: “We have already started to talk to town and parish councils about how we prioritise our spending. It is important that we are already having the conversation on how to work together more closely to deal with the challenge of delivering priority highway maintenance work and meeting the local priorities of communities on the road network. The road wardens would provide a vital link between their community and local highways staff to co-ordinate their resources based on their local priorities.”

Councillor Ken Browse, chairman of the Devon Association of Local Councils, added: “Our community leaders have got to look to their community. Thy knows their own area and the issues that need to be dealt with. At the end of the day we are here for our communities. If parish and town councils have enthusiastic individuals, we are always up for the job. That will always be the case.”

View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

Edinburgh City Council is proposing a very different solution:

Council budget: Charges to rise as services suffer

Parking charges are set to rise. Picture: Jatne Emsley
Parking charges are set to rise. Picture: Jatne Emsley

PLANS to ensure the Capital remains a “top destination” in which to live and work will be pursued against the toughest financial backdrop yet, critics have warned.

Efforts are under way to plug a funding gap of £67 million by 2017-18, as city bosses bid to repair crumbling roads, keep streets clean and provide vulnerable residents with decent care and housing.

Increases in parking charges and elderly care fees are among proposed measures aimed at securing crucial savings and unlocking new funds for investment across Edinburgh, with basic facilities such as public toilets also earmarked for closure.

But amid relentlessly rising road use and soaring numbers of residents aged 65 and above, council chiefs have been urged to think outside the box and consider radical “quick-fix” solutions such as hire purchase-style 

Campaigners and welfare groups said offering high-quality services would be a greater challenge than ever given there is “little room for manoeuvre” in the battle to balance Edinburgh’s books. And with few revenue-raising options available, they stressed it would not be enough simply to impose ever-growing fees on individual groups such as motorists.

Among the biggest potential income generators are planned parking fee hikes of up to 20 per cent, which would make the Capital the most expensive place to park in the UK outside London and boost city coffers by around £750,000.

Motorist representatives said the rises would be accepted by drivers – as long as they are reinvested in transport and lead to improved road surfaces. Last month, we revealed how repairing cracked and potholed roads across the Capital would cost £260m – more than 30 times the current £7m budget for carriageways and ­pavements.

Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “There’s a feeling that authorities are addicted to parking income. It means the citizens of Edinburgh are paying not once, not twice, but three times – for motoring tax, council tax and higher parking charges. There should be enough to go round without having to raid or up the price of parking. Parking is the best income stream for many local authorities – it’s the only income stream for many of them. But price should be determined by demand.” contracts for road and pavement resurfacing.

Council budget: Charges to rise as services suffer - Edinburgh Evening News

East Devon District Council also seems 'addicted to parking income':
Parking charges all add up for EDDC - News - Midweek Herald
Car parking charges: 30% of EDDC’s income | Sidmouth Independent News
Council profits from car parking charges | Sidmouth Independent News

... or possibly not:
‘Special offers’ to help solve parking problems? - View from Sidmouth
‘Free’ parking for all East Devon? - News - Sidmouth Herald

Here is a piece from the Rural Services Network, looking at how councils get and spend their money - click on the link below for the complete analysis:

Sunday, 26 October 2014 20:47

More spending control for local authorities?

More spending control for local authorities?
With local authorities gaining more ‘control’ over spending at a time of ‘cuts’ and ever increasing spending ‘pressures’; what services should they be providing and at what cost? Jessica Sellick investigates.
Back in March 2011, the government set up a review of local government resources to consider how to give local authorities more control over their money. The Local Government Finance Act - which gained Royal Assent on 31 October 2012 – now provides the legal basis for the provision of government grants to local authorities as well as business rates retention and localising Council Tax support. At the same time, a document released by communities secretary Eric Pickles outlined ’50 practical ways to make sensible savings’.
Mr Pickles suggestions included: sharing back office services (number 1), clawing back money from benefit cheats (number 8), hot desking/estate rationalisation (number 17); closing subsidised council canteens (number 19); opening coffee shops in libraries (number 21); scrapping the chief executive post (number 24), and no longer providing free food and drink at council meetings (number 39).
More than two years on, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that tax rises of £9 billion (equivalent to 2p on basic rate income tax) may need to be imposed after the 2015 election to fund the gap in public services. This funding gap, estimated at £2.1 billion per year (equating to £12.4 billion by the end of the decade), comes at a time when local authority spending is expected to fall by 50% between 2011-2012 and 2017-2018.
The local government finance system is frequently described as complex, centralised and confusing. In essence, local authorities have three main sources of funding: grants from central government, council Tax and other locally generated fees and charges for services.
Local authorities then prioritise spending in three main areas: capital projects such as roads or school buildings, council housing and running services. Figures showing the amount of funding local authorities receive and how they spend can vary.
On the one hand, ‘Net Current Expenditure’ - used by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) – covers all local government services including police. Here the DCLGGuide to the ‘local government finance settlement in England’ sets out the rationale for central government providing funding to local authorities with a series of live tables providing the latest or most popular data.
On the other hand, ‘Controllable Expenditure’ used by the Local Government Association (LGA) in their funding outlook work excludes service specific grants for schools, police and housing benefits as these come from ring-fenced grants.
This sets Net Controllable Expenditure for 2013/2014 at £51 billion. These definitions and calculations raise four questions: What are the distinct roles of central government and local authorities? How does the funding received by local authorities compare to their expenditure? What are the emerging issues? And where next?

More spending control for local authorities?

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