Focus: Policy and Politics - Charities told not to be cheap option

The issue of short-termism dominated Brighton's TUC Congress, writes Nathalie Thomas.

The voluntary sector should not become a "cheap alternative to the public sector", unions have warned.

Last week, union representatives joined forces at a fringe meeting of the TUC Congress in Brighton to discuss the problem of "short-termism" and the role unions can play in securing better pay, pensions and job security for voluntary sector workers.

Many delegates voiced concern that Government recommendations for the voluntary sector to assume a greater role in the delivery of public services could lead to a "permanent second-tier work force".

Nick Aldridge, head of policy at chief executives' body Acevo, which has called for charities to deliver more public services, agreed there was a threat.

"There is huge potential for the third sector to reach those service users the Government can't," he said.

"But we have a shared agenda with the unions in terms of making sure the sector realises that potential while being a good employer."

Jennie Formby, national secretary for the administration, clerical, technical and supervisory section of the Transport & General Workers' Union, told Third Sector: "The key message to the Government is that the current system isn't the most effective way to deliver services."

The new TGWU voluntary sector charter highlights its concerns about the effects of short-termism. Formby said that the sector cannot deliver quality services while its staff remain demoralised.

"The short-term approach to funding doesn't work. People are looking for new jobs almost as soon as they begin," she said.

The TGWU's demands for a simplification of the funding application process were supported by Rachael Maskell from Amicus, who repeated the union's proposals for a "one-stop funding shop".

Outlining the findings of the union's recent Short- Term Funding. Short-Term Thinking survey, Maskell pointed out that 69 per cent of voluntary organisations said they wanted funding cycles of five to ten years.

The state of flux and reorganisation that results from short-termism, she added, can lead to stress for the individual and poor productivity for the organisation.

Although only 20 per cent of voluntary sector workers belong to a union, membership among voluntary sector workers is growing. According to Formby, voluntary sector membership within the TGWU is nearing 30,000.

"Trade unions are turning their attention towards workers in that sector," she said.

- See People Management, page 18

KEY POINTS

- Union representatives discussed the problem of short-termism at the TUC Congress last week

- Delegates voiced concerns that increased public service delivery would result in a second-tier workforce

- Union membership among voluntary sector workers is growing, with the number of workers joining the TGWU nearing 30,000.

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