The predominant mood in government seems to be that voluntary sector involvement in the delivery of public services should be increased. The voluntary sector is the 'third way' for public service delivery, as an expert and non-profit alternative to private companies. The Government has launched the Futurebuilders fund and the draft Charities Bill to support the infrastructure of the sector and develop organisations' ability to deliver.
Charities such as the Red Cross, the WRVS and St John Ambulance are pivotal to responses to crises such as terrorist attacks and provide vital public services in emergency situations. But when they proposed an amendment to the Civil Contingencies Bill that would oblige the emergency services to consult them in the event of a crisis, this was rejected by the Government.
It seems that while government encourages voluntary sector involvement in the delivery of health and care services, when it comes to 'defence of the realm' and emergencies the opinion of charities that have been working in these areas for years are not taken into consideration. This approach is not only inconsistent, but could hinder the effective provision of emergency services, as the role for voluntary organisations is not made clear. The Association of Chief Police Officers is apparently worried that having to consult with the sector could create extra strain on already stretched resources, but better co-ordination with voluntary organisations could relieve some of the load.
If the Government wants to reassure us that it really has the sector's interests at heart, and does not just see voluntary organisations as a palatable and cheap way to provide certain public services, it needs to be consistent in its message that it values the expertise of voluntary organisations involved in any aspect of public service delivery.