Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Volunteering, Aid and the North

Well the Parties are all rather into volunteering aren't they! Well , as far as more of it goes. Pity about the money side of it though!

Anyway BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra are running a social action campaign across radio and online this week to raise awareness about volunteering. The "Local Hero" campaign (what a naff title!!) runs all week and provides listeners with information about volunteering as well as links through to opportunities and organisations. Click here

Meanwhile the debate on the international commitments of the parties has been put under the spotlight. All three Parties have said they are committed to the 0.7% goal but an attack from former third sector leaders on the Tory policy is interesting.

David Cameron's commitment to the fight against global poverty has been called into question as they say his party seems more interested in "political positioning" than helping the world's poor.

In a letter to The Observer, the group, which includes the former Chairs of Make Poverty History and Oxfam, says the Tories seem to be pushing "crude attempts to export failed ideological or populist policies" on aid. This came on International Development Day.

The Tories have committed themselves in their Election Manifesto to the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on international aid by 2013. But they have angered some of our NGOs with plans to set up a new stabilisation and reconstruction force within the armed forces that would carry out aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of combat.

The danger, they believe, is that aid money will be diverted to the military and away from the fight against poverty.

Now we know that charities are barred from making party-political statements during election campaigns – but the intervention of eminent former leaders in the sector reflects the views of many now working in the field.

ACEVO has a strong membership among the international NGO community in the UK and I believe we have a lot to learn internationally from what leaders in the sector across the world do. When we discuss the third sector we often forget the huge contribution that organisations like UNICEF or Wateraid, the Commonwealth Foundation or Merlin make.

These are strong professional bodies with a huge reputation across the world so their views are extremely important and should be listened too.

And I think we must beware over prissy interpretations of what we can or cannot say by a risk averse regulator. Clearly we can't say "vote Tory" for example, but we can, and should be robust in defending sector positions and saying what we think of policies as they unfold.

I see from Third Sector there have been some reviews by the Charity Commission of comments made by various leaders. All seemed entirely OK to me. We are not civil servants and so the strict rules of purdah they apply are not appropriate to our sector. And of course this is the time for us all to ensure the Parties hear what we want - and don't want!

But I was pleased that they are also keeping an eye out for the politicians; and reprimanded a Tory candidate for claiming a social action project she ran was doing charitable work - when it is not a charity!

And finally: this week marks the second anniversary of the opening of our ACEVO in the North office in Leeds. ACEVO has responded with vigour to the call of members to provide accessible and appropriate services in the regions.

I am delighted that members and the third sector have responded enthusiastically and that we now have thriving support networks and an increased membership which continues to grow.

It was a gamble setting up a new office in Leeds. How many other national umbrella bodies have taken that leap of faith to support members across the regions?

So champagne corks popping in Leeds!!!

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