Alex Deane: We must welcome the report of the Red Tape Taskforce as a step towards making volunteering less bureaucratic
Last week, Lord Hodgson presented Nick Hurd with the report of the Red Tape Taskforce, the suitably titled Unshackling Good Neighbours. The report - available in an easily digestible PDF - is good news from Lord Hodgson's highly qualified, independent team - and it is, in my view, well worth the attention of anyone who reads this site.
The Report sets out, and answers, three fundamental questions: what stops people donating? What stops people volunteering? What stops charities from growing? The answers are fascinating - and damning of the red tape edifice we've permitted to calcify in our society, greatly diminishing the will and ability of people to volunteer as a result. The Taskforce rightly ridicules many of the absurd regulatory excesses currently found - and feared - in modern Britain. Far from just citing myths about "elf'n'safety" (many of which the Report in fact helpfully lances), each awful bit of bureaucracy is demonstrated by a real-life example from one of the hundreds of responses the Taskforce received from organisations and members of the public.
About 8 years ago, I decided to get involved in a local Manchester Drama group, whose members range from 7 to 80 years old. A number of us assumed responsibility for teaching the children and preparing them for the annual pantomime and other productions. Naturally, we were CRB checked – a process I had no issue with and wholeheartedly support. However – having been CRB approved, we were invited to a session with the local child protection officer. I came away from that meeting with a number of very serious questions as to whether I should get involved with this sort of group. The talk left me feeling I would potentially be placing myself in situations of real risk.
The child protection officer focussed the session on ensuring no adult put themselves in a vulnerable position, eg if a child requests to go to the toilet – in no circumstance should an adult accompany them. If a child (with particular reference to girls) falls and cuts her knee, whilst wearing tights – under no circumstance should any adult remove the girl’s tights and help stem the bleed. No adult, whatever sex, should ever be alone with either one or more children.
Needless to say, I came away from the session questioning the sense in many of the messages conveyed. As a caring responsible adult (who as an adoptive mum now has the highest level of CRB clearance), I did not feel at all comfortable with the prospect of not being able to help an injured child etc.
The report should not only be welcomed by voluntary organisations up and down the country; it should also appeal to - and be supported by - many elements within the think tank and political campaigning spheres. The reduction in regulation should be applauded by the TaxPayers' Alliance. The (much) smaller role for nannying interference in normal life will be welcomed by both The Freedom Association and (cause of my heart) Big Brother Watch. The specific remedies it proposes to the onerous and largely unnecessary CRB scheme, which is greatly harming volunteerism in this country, will be music to the ears of the Manifesto Club, whose campaign on this issue I have long admired. And so on.
In restating basic truths - that we should be able to rely far more on our common sense, that there is such a thing as risk and that life can't be wrapped in cotton wool entirely to prevent it - I think that this report will make sense to both those involved in the work of charities in Britain, and to those who might consider it if it weren't so constrained. The report makes a series of specific recommendations - from protecting the legal status of the volunteer to making the requirement (and absence of requirement) PAT tests clear, to reforming and shrinking CRB, to empowering Job Centres to recognise volunteerism by the unemployed, and so on. As Sir Stuart Etherington (Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations) said in the Daily Telegraph,
These recommendations would cut a swathe through disproportionate, often duplicatory bureaucracy and free voluntary organisations up to concentrate on providing the best possible support to their beneficiaries. They would lighten the load significantly for smaller charities, helping them to stay afloat in the increasingly competitive commissioning environment
There speaks one who knows. I hope that his words are heeded, and that this report's conclusions are widely read and acted upon - not least by the Minister who commissioned it.
Disclaimer: the report was launched at the offices of my employer, Bell Pottinger. We received not a farthing for this. It was Pro Bono work - truly the Big Society in action :)