The government’s plan to give the employees of large companies up to three days’ leave to volunteer will not happen because the Prime Minister prefers to avoid clashing with his MPs, according to Andrew Pierce, consultant editor of the Daily Mail.
Pierce was speaking yesterday at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual conference. He said the volunteering leave plan, which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron during campaigning for last month’s general election, would be unpopular among the Conservative backbenchers.
"They think it’s a tax on business," said Pierce. "They don’t think it’s the job of government to tell people to volunteer. Let me tell you, that policy won’t be happening."
Pierce said that, given the relatively slim, 12-seat majority the Conservative Party had in the House of Commons, Cameron "isn’t going to risk a fight" with his MPs.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the department was continuing to work on the plan alongside the Cabinet Office, but she could not give any firm dates for the full publication of the proposals. A similar response was given by the department in response to a story in the Financial Times newspaper last week that said the plans were being "quietly shelved, to the relief of some business leaders".
Pierce said that the big society concept was never popular with Conservative MPs. "There was disbelief among Tory MPs when he came up with that stuff," Pierce said. He added that Conservatives were surprised when it was revived before the 2015 election.
Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror, who was appearing alongside Pierce in a session at the conference called "Essential political insight for 2015", said: "The big society was never more than a magician’s trick." Maguire said he doubted the commitment to the sector of Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society. "He’s a party hack – that’s why you’ve got him there," said Maguire.
Pierce said that Wilson’s infamous "don’t be a bad loser" comment to a constituent on Twitter reflected badly on the minister.
Martyn Lewis, chair of the NCVO and of the conference session, asked Maguire and Pierce how they felt charities could best influence government policy, suggesting that charities had two main choices: be vocal and "shout from the rooftops" or work more quietly with government officials, having private conversations.
Pierce said it was "much less useful" to go for the former, although Maguire said that vocal campaigning did have its place. "I think you must be able to make some news," Maguire said.
Pierce said that government would continue to criticise charities from time to time, but politicians know they would be "mad" to do so too much: "They know the voluntary sector has to be there to pick up the pieces."
Pierce said charities would continue to be "warmly loved and appreciated" by newspapers such as his.
Asked about his prediction for the next five years for the voluntary sector, Maguire said: "As austerity bites there will be more opportunities for you to do work." But he also noted there would be less public funding.