Local government would be "crazy" not to award more public services contracts to local charities and use the "army of volunteers" that the voluntary sector can offer, according to the chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
An interview with Martyn Lewis was published on page two of The Daily Telegraph today, the same day in which the paper published the names of the 187 organisations that have won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – described by Lewis as "the official equivalent of an MBE for groups". The former BBC newsreader chairs the QAVS committee as well as the NCVO.
Lewis told the newspaper: "We need to persuade local government organisations that when they award contracts they should tap into local charities that are doing good work and are very close to the ground.
"They are helping local governments to deliver services that they are legally obliged to provide. There is an army of volunteers out there and it’s crazy not to involve them on a more formal basis."
Lewis said that the number of people volunteering was growing partly because they were stepping in to plug the gaps in services created by austerity, and partly because more companies were allowing staff time to volunteer through corporate social responsibility schemes.
Writing in a separate piece in today’s Telegraph to announce the award winners, Lewis said that the QAVS winners had never previously been covered by any major newspaper or broadcaster. "For more than a decade, they have been the honours that the media chose to forget," he wrote.
The awards are given out annually on the anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth – this also falls in Volunteers’ Week, which is run by the NCVO in partnership with Volunteer Development Scotland, the Northern Ireland charity Volunteer Now and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action.
Lewis also urged readers to volunteer, writing: "Pick your cause, your organisations or simply your own idea, and kickstart your contribution to the lifeblood of our country. See what you, your neighbours, friends and colleagues can achieve and, in time, your group of volunteers could be in line for this most prestigious Queen’s Award."
This year 187 organisations were given the award – a rise of more than 60 per cent since last year – which is "a reflection of the growing role volunteers play in society", according to Lewis.
The winners come from across the UK and are involved in a wide range of activities, including health and wellbeing, leisure and the arts, sports, community transport and working with minority groups. There are also affiliates or local branches of national charities, such as Age UK Nottingham & Nottinghamshire, Banbury Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, a scout group in Birmingham and the Sussex and Londonderry branches of the armed forces charity SSAFA.