Charities must have a debate with government about public services, says Oonagh Aitken

The chief executive of Volunteering Matters made the call at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester

Oonagh Aitken
Oonagh Aitken

Charities need to have a debate with government about the role of civil society in delivering public services, Oonagh Aitken, chief executive of Volunteering Matters has said.

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event on securing funds for local and national charities, hosted by the People’s Postcode Lottery this morning, Aitken said the current environment meant civil action by volunteers should be seen as a key element of the country’s democracy.

"We need much broader debate about the design and delivery of public services," she said.

"In an era that’s so different from 10 or 20 years ago we can’t just brush things under the carpet and say either ‘volunteers can do more’ or ‘it’s wrong that volunteers should substitute for professionals’."

She acknowledged that some roles should be left to professionals but said: "We’re in an era now where there is a lot of community willingness to get involved and to deliver some of the public services that just can’t be delivered in any other way."

She said there needed to be a lot of discussion with national and local government about how that willingness to volunteer could be managed in a way that would provide services but allow people the opportunity to give back to their communities.

Dame Helen Ghosh, director general of the National Trust, agreed, but said there was a role that only government could fulfil in making it easier for communities to be involved in public services, through offering seed funding or relaxing regulations to allow community assets to be transferred.

"To move to a new model, you really do need to have a partnership with government, as well as the expertise of the charitable sector," she said.

At the event, the People’s Postcode Lottery renewed its calls for government to increase the annual turnover limit on a charity lottery to be increased from £10m to £100m and the for the limit on ticket sales for a single draw to be raised from £4m to £10m.

The PPL argues the moves would mean more money raised for good causes. 

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