Politics: Lib Dems: volunteers can be key to public services

Nathalie Thomas

The Liberal Democrats will today endorse a new policy that says public institutions such as the NHS should adopt minimum standards for involving volunteers in public services.

The policy, which members are expected to approve at the party conference in Brighton, would turn volunteering from the "semi-professional activity favoured by Labour into a central plank of public service policy".

The party wants members of the public to become equal partners alongside professionals in the delivery of public services to broaden the range of services the statutory sector is able to provide. On health, the party proposes that the public should be able to choose services provided by non-statutory agencies in the voluntary and private sectors.

The initiatives are contained in Make Britain Free, Fair and Green, the Lib Dems' latest policy paper. In it, Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell outlines how his party wants to fight inequality, poverty and deprivation.

"I want everybody to have the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions," he said at the launch. "Poverty and lack of opportunity restrict freedom."

Campbell has launched a working group to look at these issues. Chaired by Baroness Barker, the group will rival David Cameron's social justice commission and comes hot on the heels of the Government's social exclusion action plan.

"We aim to produce proposals to ensure that, if somebody has potential and is prepared to work hard, their life chances will not be limited by where they come from," Barker said.

A spokesman for the working group said it was planning to consult charities and would hold select committee-style meetings at which interest groups could make submissions.

The group is expected to publish its proposals in time for next year's conference.

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