Lib Dems oppose council staff volunteering in the community

Lambeth’s Liberal Democrats have opposed plans to give council staff time off work to volunteer for local community organisations.  Under the new plans introduced by Labour, all council staff will be offered up to three days to carry out work in the community.  They will be paid, and managers will make sure there is no adverse impact on council services.  It’s not a new idea – many government departments do the same thing, including government departments run by Liberal Democrat ministers.  So why have the Lib Dems opposed it in Lambeth?  Just because Labour introduced it.  That’s pretty childish isn’t it?

Here’s how the local free newspaper, the Streatham Guardian, reported the story:

Lambeth Council staff to be paid for three days off to volunteer

Nearly 3,000 council staff are being offered three days off work a year, fully paid, to do voluntary work in the community.  Lambeth Council said local groups and organisations would benefit, but critics said staff should volunteer in their own time.

The scheme, which could create almost 9,000 days of volunteering, would allow registered groups or voluntary organisation to invite council employees to work on local projects – such as play  schemes, repainting youth clubs, serving food at pensioners’ lunch clubs, or planting community gardens.

Councillor Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council, said: “Community groups do fantastic work right across Lambeth, but they often tell me they could do even more if they had more volunteers.    At the same time, people sometimes tell me the council can feel remote from the local community.

“I think it’s a great idea to get the council’s employees out of the town hall and into the community so they can hear directly from residents what problems they are facing and then give their time  to help fix them.   This will be good for our community and good for our employees, and it’s a real example of the cooperative council in action.”

The move would not affect frontline services, a council spokesman said, and allow staff to get “a better idea of the issues facing Lambeth residents in their daily lives”.

But Jeremy Clyne, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Streatham Hill, said “shouldn’t they [employees] be doing that already, it’s part of their job”.

He said: “This is hardly volunteering – staff who put themselves forward will be doing it in their paid work time.  It sounds like a desperate to spark enthusiasm about Labour’s Coop Council. A lot of staff appear to be sceptical and unconvinced about the whole project.”

But Councillor John Whelan, the Conservative group leader in Lambeth, said the scheme was a good move.   He said: “Our streetcare contractor Veolia already does this and hopefully more of our suppliers will do so as well.”

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About Steve Reed MP

I'm Labour Member of Parliament for Croydon North after being elected in a by-election in November 2012. Before that I was Leader of Lambeth Council since 2006, and was a councillor for Brixton Hill from 1998 to 2012.
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One Response to Lib Dems oppose council staff volunteering in the community

  1. simona florio says:

    I wonder whether what is preventing the scheme from realising its potential is a mere problem of semantics (i.e. people’s understanding of the term “volunteer”), or whether it is the wide-spreading belief that community groups should be relying on just unpaid labour.

    Personally, I think it is great that Lambeth Council has volunteered to allow its employees to work within the community, somewhere other than in their usual workplace, for three days a year. Council employees have skills that small, cash-strapped, community groups often lack. Thus I think of the scheme as a cost-efficient way to add value to the vital work community groups do to meet needs that would remain unmet if they didn’t exist. In fact, it’s precisely because community groups and small charities are increasingly reliant on the work done by people without jobs and on donations that they lack both the skills and the means to purchase some of the service they need. In this light, I consider that the Council’s promise that they won’t let the scheme affect their productivity provides an example of how we can all work together to achieve more in times of financial adversity.

    I trust that most Council employees would be more than willing to do a bit of extra work to cover for the absence of any of their colleagues choosing to volunteer their skills to a local good cause.

    As Coordinator of the “Healthy Living Club” at Lingham Court, I am very glad for the opportunity offered by the scheme, and this is how I intend to use it: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B4zpP7WFpDjOWmFHSHJsMExrSkk

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