Held in the Brighthelm Centre, Stanmer Rm. 5th Oct 2016 over 25 people attended the launch of the Charter and most had multiple roles, so 18 identified themselves as from service delivering voluntary organisations, 16 from activist groups and 15 from community organisations. They included many people involved in trade unions.
Andy Benson and Madeleine Dickens gave informed inputs on the difficulties facing the voluntary sector and there were 1 minute lightning interventions from the audience giving additional insights which fed into a lively and thoughtful debate.
Madeleine Dickens from Defend NHS talked of the way the NHS and other public services are being gradually privatised and the ways in which some voluntary organisations may be encouraging and colluding with this process. Andy Benson from the National Coalition for Independent Action provided a national picture about the dangers to the essential advocacy and campaigning role of voluntary organisations - which endangers their role as organisations independent of the state and private corporate interests - when they get involved in contracting arrangements.
We had a fistful of lightening interventions which pointed to different aspects: the issue is complex and there is no one solution; young people may organise in different ways and not see the issue in the same light; the destruction of local authority services (particularly in the youth field) is a vital concern. Voluntary organisations cannot always claim to do this work better.
Small group discussions raised a host of issues: including the way voluntary organisations can be used as a trojan horse for privatisation of services by corporations, the possible loss of advocacy and representation roles. Others pointed to the complementary role voluntary organisations should play in relation to public services we all rely on and not a replacement for services that took over a hundred years of campaigning and sacrifice to achieve.
The charter is not set in stone and can still be addded to. It's main role is a tool for debate in and around the voluntary sector - with management committee members, staff, volunteers and people with lived experience. It is vital for volunteers who wish to retain volunteering as an expression of co-operation and free contribution of their skills and not under coercion or as substitution for paid public services. It is important for trade unions and staff in the public and voluntary sectors.
Let us know if you want to join or debate the issue in your group or networks! Also let us know if you support the principles of the charter and want your logo added to the document. Look out for the interviews on Radio Free Brighton with Umit in the coming days.
This is an initiative of the Brighton People's Assembly (BPA)
We want to particularly thank: all the people in the BPA who helped make the charter a reality and all those who helped set up the event. Particular thanks to Brighton Benefits Campaign, Adur Voluntary Action, Disabled People Against the Cuts (Brighton), Defend NHS Sussex, Unite Community, Unison, Brighton Trades Council for support in pushing this initiative forward.