Sector cool on Tory 'citizen service'

Volunteering groups have given a qualified welcome to Conservative Party leader David Cameron's proposals for a national citizen service.

Cameron last week unveiled his proposal to introduce a new scheme in which 16-year-olds would give up six weeks to work with charities in the UK or overseas. They could also take part in military training or complete mini-triathlons.

“This will make people feel proud about themselves and their country,” Cameron told The Sun newspaper. “North and south, black and white, rich and poor – they will be putting something back into the community.”

Justin Davis-Smith, acting chief executive of Volunteering England, said his charity welcomed any initiative that encouraged more young people to get involved in their communities.

“We would like to see more clarity regarding the terminology used,” he said. “Volunteering, charity work and national citizens’ service are often used interchangeably."

Davis-Smith said there should be further guidance on the boundaries between compulsory service and volunteering, and how these activities might be delivered.

He added: “We also have concerns that some volunteer-involving organisations which might be perceived as being less youth-friendly might lose out to specialist youth opportunity providers.

“We are also keen that volunteering should not be perceived as just a tool for delivering public services, developing citizenship and delivering educational outcomes.”

A spokeswoman from youth volunteering charity v said: “There is a need for a clear distinction to be made between volunteering, which is a non-compulsory, unpaid activity, and a programme of national service which includes elements that cannot be classified as volunteering.

“We know from our experience as a youth-led organisation that, in order to inspire and engage young people, it is essential that they are involved at every level of programme development and delivery.

She added: “We are already working with young people and the sector to create innovative youth volunteering opportunities by investing £70m through our National Youth Volunteering Programme. Any new programme, such as that outlined by the Conservative Party, would need to complement this volunteering infrastructure and build on the successes of the sector.”

Unlike CSV, the volunteering charity that recently put forward a similar idea for a year-long national youth service (Third Sector, 5 September 2007), Cameron ruled out the idea that it could be compulsory, saying this would act as a turn-off for young people.

Cameron first mooted the idea of a community service for young people last year. At that time he said: “If it isn‘t compulsory or if it isn’t universal, it could tend to be something else that well-off families do because it’s good for their kids, but it would not actually reach some of the most marginalised families and could exclude children who actually would really benefit.”

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