V stakeholders 'concerned over perception of Labour bias', independent report says

Volunteers and organisers feared the coalition government would dismiss the youth volunteering charity's achievements


People involved with the youth volunteering charity v have reported concerns that its independence could have been compromised as a result of a perception that it was too close to the previous Labour government, according to a new independent report.

V was set up by the government in 2006 with £117m following a report from the Russell Commission, which was established in 2004 by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

Formative Evaluation of v, a 212-page evaluation report published last week, says interviews with stakeholders revealed that "there was a common awareness of the level of government funding invested in v, and a resultant understanding that there was a close relationship.

"There were subsequent concerns amongst stakeholders that this could compromise their independence," it says.

The report was written by the National Centre for Social Research, the Institute for Volunteering Research, the University of Southampton, the University of Birmingham and the digital agency Public Zone.

It is based on interviews with young volunteers and project organisers, as well as stakeholders from government, the private sector and other youth and volunteering organisations.

It says after the election of a Conservative-led government in May 2010, "stakeholders reported concerns that the perceived links with New Labour, and in particular Gordon Brown, could politically damage v’s future.

There was a subsequent fear that the current coalition government would be able to dismiss the work of v on these grounds, however successful it may have been.

The report says v "has been relatively successful in meeting the aims it set out to, in terms of impacting on the quality, quantity and diversity of young volunteering and engaging young people."

It says v has created just over a million volunteering opportunities since it was set up, surpassing its target from the Russell Commission to create 412,160 opportunities in its first five years.

It says 58.2 per cent of those who have volunteered with v are female and 41.8 per cent male. Sixty-nine per cent are white British.

The report also says 62 per cent of v volunteers were in education, 16.2 per cent were employed and 15.9 per cent were not in employment, education or training. Fifty-one per cent had a low income, it says, and seven per cent were offenders or ex-offenders.

It said a study of the social return on investment provided by the charity, measured by attributing a financial value to the social benefits gained from its work, showed that for every £1 spent by v, it generated £5.80 in value.

However, the report also highlights concerns among the volunteering groups funded by v. "Many organisations funded by v initially expressed concerns and were unsupportive of what was felt to be an overly target-driven programme design," it says. "A lack of effective communication between v and the funded network was also highlighted."

The report says government spending cuts are a threat to volunteering. "The combination of dramatic spending cuts and the drive to build the big society places volunteering in a slightly uncertain political context," it says.

"The decline in financial support for the sector could threaten to undermine the commitment to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of involvement in the future."

Terry Ryall, chief executive of v, said in her afterword to the report: "We are proud of our achievements, including creating and filling over one million volunteering opportunities.

"At v, learning has always been an intrinsic part of our DNA and, whilst we will never profess to having all the answers, we are always prepared to learn from our experiences."

Kaye Wiggins recommends

Formative Evaluation of v

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