Govt Plans for Public Services Run by Volunteers – My Mind is about yours?

24 Jul

I love the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Not just because they are Quaker inspired and governed (am unashamedly pro-Quaker).  I like their neat summaries, that don’t assume you already know lots about latest policy developments (I don’t read newspapers these days). I like this summary on the new white paper…

Today I don’t feel like commenting seriously on this new approach by the Govt –  using local volunteers rather than govt-subsidised funding, dressed up as ‘greater local involvement and direction’. And, yes that wee term of ‘social enterprise’ – which many of us have been getting on and delivering in recent years – because we believe in it – not because we think it will save the Govt money and take advantage of well meaning citizens.

So yes, I am smiling. I know where this is coming from and how limited its success will be. The very thought of using volunteers for example, to run most public libraries is causing my mind to boggle.  Here are two ridiculous examples that I have thought up – of people I know who volunteer and what their approach would be if they were working in the public library in my own little town.


BRIAN – Volunteer ‘on duty’ at the local Library (now run by the local community). Aged 75 (based on my dad of course.)

STEPH – Local mum – working full time and about to embark upon study marketing at local college in the evenings.


STEPH: Hello – Do you have any books on Marketing?  You know – like, an Introduction To – Idiot’s Guide, that kind of thing?

BRIAN: On what? On th ‘Iistory of Markets? You mean like the old market at Ashton or at Stalybridge? There’s a lovely section over the’er on Local ‘Istory. It’s my ‘obby you know. All o’ that. There’s a smashin’ new book on th’istory of traction engines in th’ local area. Ah’ll go an’ fetch it for yer.

STEPH: Er no. I mean – marketING – you know – trying to see things to people using a marketing strategy?

BRIAN: (Laughs) Ah reet! Ah know what yer mean. Like that bloody woman what’s always ringin’ me and tryin’ for’t sell me a timeshare in Ayia Napa by offerin me and the wife an afternoon of cocktails and vol au vents in Salford. Cost me t’price of a bloody time share in petrol to drive over thee’er ah said to the daft cow! And all for a few posh cakes!

STEPH: Uhm. I suppose so. There is a marketing element to that I guess.

BRIAN: An’ the wife can’t ‘ave pastry I said, ’cause of her colitis. So what’s the point in me, payin’ to drive all the way to Salford, tryin’ to find somewhere to park what’ a bit safe so all them Manky lads don’t nick the bloody car whilst we’re drinkin’ our pomagne?  That’s crap marketing that is.

STEPH: Er yes. I suppose it is. So, er. Can you like, show me where the marketing books might be?

BRIAN: To be honest, no. Ah don’t think ah can. It’s a big bugger this library int it? I mean, Ah only do Tuesdays here for 2 hours and by the time ah’ve made meself a brew, there’s no time to do ‘owt other than prop this desk up ‘ere with a few good encyclopaedias. Can’t be doin’ with a wonky desk. Shoddy workmanship that is. But – ah can show you where the Spike Milligan ones are though. They’re the only books ah’ve ever bothered readin’. Reet good though! I were chucklin’ away to meself, all the way through. Proper comedy that. None of yer rude filth – blue stuff like the so-called comedians what they ‘ave today. About at funny as a cripple with woodworm they are…

STEPH: Erm. No – I really need one on marketing. But thanks anyway. (She turns to go)

BRIAN: (Calling after her) Me wife, Yvonne could ‘elp yer though. She’s always gorrer nose in a book.

STEPH: (Turning back) Oh – right! Is she here then?

BRIAN: Nah. Not today. She only works Thursdays 9am while 11 am. She does Sally Army and the ‘Ospice most of the other hours in the week. As well as lookin’ after the grandkids so me daughter and son in law don’t have for’t pay the child care. Bloody tight wads. And on the amount they earn! I know they live in bloody Yorkshire, but yer’d think they’d chuck a few bob their old man’s way wudn’t yer?

STEPH: Oh. That’s a shame.

BRIAN: Int’ it?  I can’t be doin’ wi’ all the cryin an’ the nappies, I can’t at my age. (Shakes his head). Can’t hear the bloody telly half the time. Totally missed me Countdown yesterday.  I said to her, I said – you’re bloody puddled you are – we ‘ad enough of that with our two growin’ up and they’ve never bloody thanked us for it – what meks yer think they’ll be any different? (Pauses for a minute).       Tell  yer what though – we’ve just a crackin’ book on Fred Dibnah’s early designs of traction engines. Ah’ll go and fetch it for yer…..




Another person I am quite happy to use as an illustrative (albeit exaggerated) example is my husband Ian who also does voluntary work.


IAN – Local businessman who believes in the ‘value of community’ and has subsequently volunteered to offer his many skills and talents in service at the local library.

LUKE – University student, from East Anglia – studying at Huddersfield University nearby.


LUKE:  Hi.  Yeah, I hope you don’t mind but these books are ever so slightly overdue. I don’t normally use this library you see…

IAN: (Silence)

LUKE: I mean – I, I’m a student. At the University. But I can’t always get what I want there. Shortage you see. So sometimes I come here.

IAN: (Intimidating silence)

LUKE: So, er – is that ok?

IAN: Not really.

LUKE: Sorry? What do you mean?

IAN: Well, they’re overdue aren’t they?

LUKE: Er yes. But I’ll pay it. I mean – I know I shouldn’t have forgotten and everything, but I’ve had my finals you see. And..I..

IAN: Pardon?

LUKE: Sorry? Pardon for what?

IAM: I mean Pardon with reference to ‘Your Finals’. You are assuming that I know what that means.

LUKE: Er. Well. Finals. I mean – final examinations for taking a degree. You know.

IAN: (heavy sigh) Actually – I don’t know. I’m afraid that – as I just said – you are being just a little too assuming. Typical of today’s University generations really.  Thinking that everyone KNOWs the technicalities of acquiring a University degree.  Just because the Government has lowered the bar so that any Tom, Dick or Harry can get a qualification (which incidentally is about as much use as having a tattoo in this current economic climate) doesn’t mean that you can just assume that the average member of the population knows – or cares – about your degree in Strictly Come Dancing Studies.  Or whatever so-called academic discipline that you are purporting to study.


IAN: (Frozen Silence)

LUKE: So er. So –  didn’t you go to University then?

IAN: (rolls eyes heavenward). No. No. When you were a twinkle in your father’s eye – when I was the ripe old age of 16, I  got on my bike and began to GRAFT for a living. No qualifications twaddle for me! I was one of Thatcher’s original YTS teenagers.  Worked in kitchens, washing up the crockery of Birmingham’s jet set. Birmingham’s finest hotels.

LUKE: (coughs with incredulity) Jet Set – finest hotels in Birmingham?

Ian: (mortally offended and getting louder) No need to be rude Sir. And although I never DID make millions through afore-mentioned hard work and grafting, I learned the value of a bit of elbow grease and ‘cutting your cloth’. Not like you student lot today. I paid tax for the likes of you and what do I get in exchange for that eh? What lessons have you learned from your high-flying education? You watch a few episodes of ‘Dragons Den’ or ‘The Apprentice’  and you think you’ve got what it takes to succeed. A snazzy suit from Hugo Boss for your 21st birthday and a half day module on business strategy.

LUKE: Well, no, I never…

IAN: So you just waltz in here with your hangover and your ‘Free The Bolivian Tree Goats’ tee shirt and you present me with not just one but TWO books that are at LEAST 24 hours overdue and you expect ME. Honest, local people like me, the single mothers and the Pensioners of this community to foot your mounting debt?!

LUKE: Well, no. I don’t expect that at all actually (frantically takes out his wallet). Look – here’s two quid. It can’t surely be more than that? Of course I will pay it! It’s my fault – like I said. I just forgot. No excuses.

IAN: Pah!

LUKE: Pardon?

IAN: Ha!  Just goes to show you how ready you and your lot are for THE REAL WORLD!

LUKE: I’m sorry?

IAN: (Steely) The fine is £11.32. Cash only. We don’t have the facilities for (sneers) credit cards. We’re a community business organisation you know. It’s no-frills here.

LUKE: What? That’s ridiculous!

IAN: (rolling his eyes again) Hmm. Well, I suppose you are used to whacking it on a credit card for your oh-so-essential Renault Megane, and your year-off Round the World Trip. Or rather more likely – on your parent’s credit card.  But not here you can’t. As I said. We can’t afford the facilities for such transactions.

LUKE: No – I don’t mean paying by card. I mean – I can’t believe that it’s that much for two slightly overdue books!  But I…I can’t believe this. I thought it used to be about 25p a day, per book?

IAN: Oh that. Well – we operate as a social enterprise now. Anyway.If you ask me, we should be charging at least £50.00 for this kind of flagrant abuse of public library facilities. But we took a unanimous decision to hike the fine rate AND to charge compound interest rates.


IAN:  Yes. You might know what compound interest is if  you had done the ‘old fashioned’ O Level maths as opposed to getting a (cough) ‘A starred’ GCSE for working out such essential knowledge for life as to the probabilities of Beyonce or Elbow making it to the Christmas Number One.    Also… (taps on computer)  I see that you are studying Biology. Ah well. Our management committee took the decision to charge a further 30% for science students – based on recent research that on average you would be earning roughly that amount more than those who don’t obtain a science degree. It’s what our community has decided the policy should be based on. Equitable don’t you think? Fair Trade and all of that! I’m sure you would approve of that.

LUKE: What? That’s outrageous!

IAN: (smiling broadly) So that will be £14.71 please.

LUKE: Christ! I should have studied sociology after all. I can’t frigging believe it! (Turns to leave)

IAN: (calling after him) Well – all I can say is make sure you don’t visit the library on a Wednesday as that’s the day that the local Jehovah’s Witnesses look after it for us and they certainly wouldn’t appreciate that kind of language my friend.  They’ve already banned Harry Potter and I am led to believe that it will be Richard Dawkins next…


Okay. I’m wildly exaggerating. But you get the picture don’t you?…


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