Voluntary action makes Britain great, says PM

Gordon Brown called today for a new partnership that would involve individuals, independent community organisations and government working together for social change.

In his first public keynote speech since becoming Prime Minister, he praised voluntary action as a key strength of British society and promised new ways to mobilise it, including a fresh approach from government.

“Through their capacity to break new ground, to cross new frontiers, to do what standardised services often cannot do – to try things out, to work informally, to do things differently – volunteers and voluntary organisations often change the way we see and do things,” he said.

The speech came on the same day as the publication of The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration, the final report following the third sector review, which is intended as the Government’s vision of its work with the voluntary sector in the next 10 years.

It was combined with the launch of Brown’s latest book, Britain’s Everyday Heroes, published in association with the charity Community Links, which hosted the event at Central Hall, Westminster. The overture was provided by the choir of Godwin Primary School in east London, who sang about pollution and recycling.

The Prime Minister touched on many of the measures in the action plan, including the £60m of new money for local endowment funds and community organisations in the total of £515m to be spent on the sector in the next three years.

But he announced other measures, including the new Council on Social Action, which is to be led by David Robinson, co-founder and senior adviser of Community Links. Brown said the council will “bring social innovators together to generate ideas on how the whole of government can support the efforts of those striving for social change, in all their diverse ways”.

He also said it was “a priority” to examine how a new social investment bank and other new forms of social investment might help community groups get more secure and sustainable funding.

Brown revealed plans for the UK to host an annual global forum on social leadership and a new Prime Ministerial award for social technology. And he called for a radical change of emphasis in the honours system.

He said that only 40 per cent of honours were for service to the community and that that figure should be substantially higher. He added: “The significant majority of honours should, in my view, go to people who serve their community.”

The Prime Minister began his speech with a tribute to emergency workers and volunteers fighting the floods. He said they were “everyday heroes” of the kind featured in his book.

He accepted that many traditional structures of British society and voluntary engagement had declined. But he had seen new and vibrant forms of civic life, social participation and multimedia technology that had transformed the scope and nature of civic participation.

Brown said: “Some of their activities may be new to our time, but they are all rooted in the timeless values of the good society: a society where we all feel a part of, and play a part in, something bigger than ourselves.

“And it is in these millions of quiet, often unheralded deeds of commitment and acts of humanity that never draw attention to themselves that we can see the greatness of Britain.”

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