Dame Elisabeth Hoodless has used the occasion of her retirement as executive director of the volunteering charity Community Service Volunteers to say that spending cuts are undermining volunteering and the government lacks a strategic plan to implement the big society.
In media interviews before her retirement speech at the House of Commons this evening, Hoodless said she was excited by the big society in many ways, but ministers had misunderstood the level of responsibility volunteers were willing to take on.
She also said the National Citizen Service, a key part of the big society agenda that aims to give volunteering opportunities to all 16 year olds, would divert precious funds from established youth volunteering projects. "How does that make sense?" she asked.
In her speech tonight, Hoodless - who has led CSV for 36 years - will call for the government to launch a national service programme for a year for 18 to 21-year-olds and say that prospective MPs should have to complete a year of community service before being allowed to enter parliament.
"Why not make a year of service a prerequisite for all would-be MPs?" she will say. "It would help them understand how their would-be electors actually live and what needs fixing."
Hoodless told Third Sector before the speech that she would want this service to be at least eight hours a week. It would require a degree of flexibility, she said, because some would need to fit it around other commitments.
Debbie Usiskin, vice-chair of the Association of Volunteer Managers, said it was a great idea and once someone became an MP they should continue to volunteer at least six days a year.
"I think we can all do a few hours a week, even if we’ve got families to support and incomes to earn," she said.
A spokesman for Volunteering England said it was a good idea because it would help would-be MPs get to grips with the issues in their areas. But he said it should be voluntary, not compulsory.
"Understanding the voluntary spirit and the value of this is very important," he said.