This is the text of an interview I did with the Gloucestershire umbrella organisation for charities and voluntary organisations, GAVCA, in Sep 2010.
1. What does the new government’s emphasis on the Big Society mean for the voluntary and community sector?
The concept of and commitment to the Big Society by the new coalition government is above all recognition of the vital role played in Britain by voluntary and charitable organisations.
It comes at a time when the role, size and cost of government has to be reduced: when the evidence for the quality of work done by non government organisations – from Gloucester City Homes to the Brandon Trust – is both clearer and positive; and when the not for profit sector has the confidence to take on more.
2. What role can the voluntary and community sector play in meeting the challenges facing Gloucester?
There are many good examples. The Civic Trust helps protect our architectural history: the Street Pastors helps protect our young at night; and GEAR helps care for the homeless. We have many others – for example the Family Haven, the Food Bank, the James Hopkins Trust, Furniture Recycling and now the Nelson Trust (for drug abusers).
All these and others help tackle many of the urban issues that challenge our city – but there is much more that could be done.
3. How are you going to engage with the voluntary and community sector in Gloucester?
In lots of ways, perhaps particularly as a trustee of the Gloucestershire Community Foundation, which has funded so many good causes in Gloucester – many of which I have visited and supported.
I became a trustee of this under-known charity early in 2008 after being impressed by what it achieved for some of the worst affected communities during the flooding of 2007. Over the years the GCF has funded lots of small projects and equipment around our county – with donations and funding mostly from Gloucestershire people. Operating from an office in Gloucester, the GCF deserves to be better known, and attract even more funding so that it can help more causes. I hope to play a part in helping this charity to grow. Find out more here.
I’m also committed to working to create a new Gloucestershire Credit Union to help the poorest in our county avoid loan sharks and provide a new and low cost source of loans for households.
My wife Anthea is a trustee of the Family Haven – a great small charity helping struggling mothers with their young children. It was the first charity in Gloucester that I’ve been involved with, when a small group of us repainted an upstairs room. Find out more here.
And I do have an ambition to do more for social cohesion, probably through a new charitable vehicle, to tackle anti social behaviour and teenagers excluded from school, with links to employers and trainers for future jobs.
4. What is the government’s view of support and development organisations, such as GAVCA?
The government is keenly aware of the need for ‘capacity building’ in the voluntary sector – ie helping organisations do what they do better, more efficiently and with greater collaboration between them.
My own view is that for too long too many local charities have done their own thing, without obvious consideration of sharing resources, and on the assumption that local government should be the main, if not the only, provider of their funds. That always seemed to me unrealistic and I’ve been urging GAVCA for the last two years to change any expectations that things could continue unaltered in the worst economic recession of 80 years.
But – to end on a positive note – I do think that plans for a National Citizenship Service show how keen government is to involve more people in voluntary service: and that is the best way of building awareness of the importance of the sector, and extending the potential for more good work by charities.