Although I'm sure attending Party Conferences is a health hazard; bad food, drink, unsocial hours and bad hotels, they're invaluable for the contacts and networks you need to make if you want a leadership role in our sector, as well as the intel you pick up.
So it was amusing that as I sat with my new Policy Officer, George Bangham and Karl Wilding, the NCVO Director of Policy in the "Coffee Club" talking about the Lobbying Bill, Andrew Lansley pops by. We had another word about the Bill timetable and issues involved. That followed our meeting with him in more formal circumstances last week. We are currently working on views on the amendments to the Bill to be laid this week - though of course if this Bill is to make high-quality law that addresses public demand, it must be paused to properly listen to the views of those who it affects.
The first meeting of the new Civil Society Commission (www.civilsocietycommission.info) takes place today, and they will announce their Chair. I'm confident the huge diversity of Commission supporters shows that opposition to the Bill had nothing to do with politics; rather it's about fairness, democracy and good law. My own Chair, Lesley Anne (RNIB) is a member and indeed they are meeting at RNIB .
Parliamentarians have now been informed of the Commission's existence and aims.
The Commission will aim to take evidence around the country in the next 3 weeks, select committee-style, including testimony from:
- Organised civil society
- Expert witnesses e.g. lawyers
- Members of the public
- and the inevitable Celebrities!
Lastly, at the Conference yesterday we heard from the Chancellor about his latest efforts regarding unemployment. Charities have long led the way in supporting the unemployed back into work. However, if the government expects charities to take on many more volunteers through the ‘Help to work’ scheme, then those places will need to be funded. Governments tend to think of volunteering as without cost, but volunteers need to be supervised, managed and trained and that costs money. Many charities would also have strong reservations about accepting volunteers on mandatory placements- volunteers should be motivated by passion, not the threat of lost benefits. Many of my members will not want to take on the role of penalising people on schemes who may loose benefits. We are the voluntary sector, not an arm of the State, let alone an enforcement agency for DWP.