Can we cut the red tape and encourage more volunteers?
PUBLISHED: 19:15 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 19:15 29 August 2019
Volunteers are the life and soul of this country, but many are dissuaded by too much red tape. It needs to stop, says Nick Conrad
Norfolk life is enriched by a dedicated voluntary community. If we could put a value on those who give up their free time to support public services, organise events or assist charities then it runs into the hundreds of millions of pounds. We need to do more to celebrate and recognise the amazing effort these people go to for no financial reward. In understanding their motivation and desires to enhance local life, we must also ensure that their progress isn't hampered by unnecessary red tape.
Last week Cromer Carnival celebrated its 50th anniversary. This colourful week-long celebration is a boost to the hardworking local business community. Thousands of tourists descend on the town to enjoy the centre-piece parade, the Runton Road festivities and the Friday Fancy dress. They bring their wallets stuffed with cash and gleefully distribute the dosh around the town. The carnival is so much more than a fun family event, it's vital to the local economy.
The carnival is the combined effort of hardworking, dedicated volunteers. I know many of them and I am so grateful for their endeavour. They are not duty bound to give up their free time or, in many cases, their holiday. Yet they do. Year in year out. And what thanks do they really get? In my humble opinion, not nearly enough.
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Sadly, the positivity of volunteering is being overshadowed, for some, by the endless paperwork that can accompany working with the public. One volunteer for another charity told me she is about to give up her community role. Her reason for walking away - the endless form filling she does just to undertake her duty. Her charity connects youngsters with adventure activities. It is unacceptable if spirited individuals turn their back on good causes because of the fatigue of excessive bureaucratic rigmarole.
We would do well to remember that people engage with good work because they want to make a difference. Spending valuable time behind a desk doing risk assessments is few people's idea of fun. I don't believe we need a fundamental shake-up of the system, nor do I dismiss the need for safeguarding and checks, but I do question if enough is being done to support the voluntary sector with practical help.
Maybe we need greater numbers of support workers who can assist with the 'boring' elements of being a do-gooder. Do we have enough resources available to help those who want to set up a charity, an event, or help a local community? Those working in larger charities or institutions might be OK, but the 'lone-rangers' may be inclined to throw the towel in. We must also acknowledge that a certain degree of checks and balances are important, especially when dealing with children and vulnerable adults.
Roughly 50% of people in England volunteer at least once a month to help people in a formal or informal capacity. The total annual value to the economy is estimated at £50 billion. The government's long term aim has been to boost volunteering further by adopting a position of non-interference. Yet our modern day insistence to risk assess every eventuality, coupled with the increased threat of legal action if something goes wrong, means that community leaders will continue to face mountainous paperwork.
Volunteering is in the DNA of our society. It enriches our own lives and those of others. Sadly, I fear that too many people are being put off. You really do have to be motivated to endure some of the tedious processes. Maybe we are at a 'bureaucratic cliff edge' I believe the time has come to rethink the obsession with mitigating risks at all costs. Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.
Let's help everyone to be more charitable.