Debra Allcock Tyler: We don't need more community organisers

The government programme is another example of reinventing the wheel, says our new columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

It's a new year, with the excitement of new plans, projects and a renewed sense of purpose. Allegedly.

So imagine how disappointed I am by some of the coalition government's 'resolutions'. No, I'm not talking about David & Nick's workout DVD, but old ideas resurrected as new: "Look - we've invented a wheel!" Sigh. Here we go again.

Isn't this precisely where the previous administration got it so badly wrong, coming up with worthy ideas but ballsing them up in practice? Inventing new structures when there are perfectly good ones already in existence?

Take, for example, the community organisers programme. I understand that the government will invest a few million pounds to pump-prime the programme, the basic idea being to stimulate and support local voluntary action through a network of community organisers.

But we don't need it. We already have a perfectly good network of organisations supporting local voluntary action and community endeavour, which, with a bit of core funding from government, could do considerably more. Or perhaps the government simply hasn't heard of the CVS network or of volunteer bureaux? Isn't this another completely unnecessary waste of money by a government duplicating work that has already been done - just like the last lot did?

And on top of that it expects the sector to come up with the tens of millions it will surely take to make the programme 'sustainable' - and in government terms sustainable basically means "we're not paying for it, so get some other poor sucker to cough up".

And the same hand that is wasting money on unnecessary and unwanted initiatives has implemented gob-smackingly ridiculous levels of cuts to the Charity Commission. This isn't 'sharing the pain' - it's inflicting the brunt of it on a body that could support delivery of the big society in a very practical way. Where was Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, when these cuts were decided? How on earth do he and his fellow ministers expect lots of citizens to gather together and form local voluntary action groups when they are making gut-wrenching funding cuts to the only organisation that can ensure they are doing what they do within the spirit and to the letter of charity law?

Who do they think is going to regulate, guide and advise all these community organisations run by community organisers?

Nevertheless, I don't despair. This year will be our time to shine. We've been messed about before by other governments and we're still standing. Most of us do not, never have and never will rely on state funding. We will prove to the doubters that we can and do deliver first-class services more efficiently, effectively and sustainably than the private sector or the state. How? Through doing what we do best: appealing to the hearts, minds and hands of our fellow citizens.

- Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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