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Voluntary and Community Sectors

Volume 513: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2010

We thoroughly accept the implication of the question. Voluntary organisations are subject to much too much regulation and monitoring. That is why, in addition to the important work that Lord Young is doing on reducing the impact of health and safety legislation and the compensation culture on those organisations, we are about to launch a specific taskforce to examine the impact of regulation on small organisations. We hope to announce the chair of that taskforce very shortly and that it will complete its work by next spring.

I thank the Minister for his answer. One of the key areas of the Government’s big society project is to encourage volunteering. However, it is accepted that in many disadvantaged areas there are lower levels of volunteering. For example, school governor places remain vacant. Will he consider how we can break down the barriers, whether regulatory or otherwise, that deter a broader number of people from coming forward to volunteer, particularly in disadvantaged areas?

The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. She is absolutely right that we need to break down those barriers, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is currently looking at how we might do that.

It is important to note that the accusation that is sometimes made that school governors will need to have Criminal Records Bureau checks is not correct. Unless those governors are involved in working with children in school on a day-to-day basis, all that needs to be checked is the list 99 bar. We are, of course, also looking at how we can reduce CRB checks to a common-sense level and at the vetting and barring regime. I hope that all those things will help persuade people that it is well worth doing important voluntary work.

All over the country this Sunday there will be “big lunch” street parties, and Battersea is no exception. In my area it has been greatly facilitated by the council issuing a flat-rate charge for street closures with an easily completed form, and generally being accommodating and encouraging. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should encourage all councils to do that?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her part in getting that to happen, and her council on taking that admirable attitude. One reason why we are so keen to decentralise and to give councils much more responsibility and power is precisely that they can then take sensible local initiatives of that kind to encourage local and community groups to flourish, which of course is part of our big society agenda.

Order. May I just appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to face the House so that we can all enjoy his mellifluous tones?

What plans does my right hon. Friend have to extend longer-term funding to voluntary sector organisations so that they can do more?

I should say, Mr Speaker, that no one has previously accused me of having a mellifluous tone.

My hon. Friend is on to something enormously important. It is not just that we need to extend additional funding—it is much more than that. We need to involve the voluntary sector in a whole range of massive reform programmes. We hope to see it involved in schools, in the rehabilitation revolution, in the Work programme, in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and in much else besides. We are moving away from the micro-management of processes in contracts and towards a very exciting new world of payment by results, so that voluntary organisations can use their talents and initiative to achieve real results.

One of the biggest barriers to volunteering and volunteer groups is taxation, not just the increase in VAT that was voted through last night but the level of taxation that volunteer drivers have to pay on their mileage. Will the Ministers please talk to HM Customs and the Chancellor about the increase in that taxation, in line with the petrol duty increase over the past decade?

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to do something that a ministerial career cannot long survive—speak for the Chancellor of the Exchequer on tax matters. I certainly undertake to continue the discussions with the Chancellor, which I have on all occasions, about how he can further our general programme to favour community groups in the voluntary sector. That is high on his agenda as well as ours.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that increasing the rate of VAT for charities will help them deal with the real difficulties of over-regulation?

It appears that there is a combined effort on the Labour Benches to persuade me to adopt the role of a Treasury Minister, which I am not and cannot do. Of course, we are conscious of the burdens that fall on the voluntary sector. However, for many people in that sector, a framework that enables them to do what they do best, in a way that achieves results, is what really counts. My response to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) is the response to that.