The year in volunteering: 2011

Third Sector reporter Sophie Hudson reviews the main developments of the past twelve months

National Citizen Service participants
National Citizen Service participants

Funding cuts started to bite at volunteering centres, with 30 centres warning in January they might have to close down or stop providing some services because of local authority cuts.

Shortly afterwards, a number of volunteering organisations, including Youthnet UK and TimeBank, were told they would no longer receive funding from the Office for Civil Society’s strategic partners programme. This resulted in TimeBank having to cut its staff by a third. Later in the year, Volunteering England and TimeBank said they were involved in talks with other volunteering organisations about collaboration.

In February, the government announced plans for a wide-ranging reform of the vetting and barring system, under which only those who work "closely and regularly" with children and vulnerable adults would have to be checked. The proposal would also make criminal records checks portable so that individuals would not need separate checks by each organisation they worked or volunteered for. This was followed later in the year by the news that the government was considering charging volunteers to use the system.

This year’s Citizenship Survey showed that the number of people formally volunteering at least once a year had fallen to its lowest level for 10 years. Civil servants were also encouraged to do at least one day of volunteering a year, plans that were solidified among a wide range of other volunteering initiatives put forward in the Giving White Paper later in the year.

The first National Citizen Service programme took place over the summer with varying success. The main criticisms were that it was too expensive and almost a quarter of places went unfilled. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to triple the number of places available on the programme to 90,000 by 2014.

The year also saw volunteers being used in unusual ways. Volunteering England accused prime contractors in the programme of referring clients to volunteer centres without making any payments to them.

Finally, the Court of Appeal ruled in a landmark case that volunteers without contracts were not covered by anti-discrimination legislation for workers. A leading barrister welcomed this as a significant victory for the sector because it meant it would not have to face the financial burden that volunteers having enhanced rights would bring.

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