Volunteers: Services on the Cheap?

Shelagh Simmons highlights the hypocrisy and myopia of the Council leadership’s sudden endorsement of volunteering.

Promoting the city’s latest volunteering initiative, Portsmouth Together, Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones recently told The News how supportive she is of volunteering. I am sure she is. Not only is it a ‘great way to engage with local communities’, as she said, she probably sees it as a great way to save money too. It will no doubt be used to try and plug the gap left by services decimated through cuts.

And I say this is the latest initiative because whatever makeovers and re-branding are applied – I am sure we all remember the much heralded Big Society – Portsmouth Together isn’t a new concept. This city has always had a strong base of dedicated organisations and individuals committed to helping others and freely giving their time. But that is no substitute for qualified, paid professionals

The last full Council meeting saw a powerful demonstration against proposed funding reductions to services for victims of domestic violence. Giving a disturbing insight into her thinking, Councillor Jones appeared to completely miss the point. She said that when facing redundancy one simply had to ‘brush it off and get on with it’.

It apparently did not occur to her that some in our communities aren’t only interested in looking after themselves.  They are prepared to stand up for others. The protest was not about people trying to save their jobs.  It was about people trying to save lives. I am sure some of those she spoke of so dismissively then are volunteers just like the ones she now praises.

Instead of attacking citizens defending desperately needed services (including mental health) for the most vulnerable, Councillor Jones should protest to government against policies that hurt so many people. She won’t, of course, because she is a cheerleader for what the government is doing. And it gives her a handy fig leaf so that she can distance herself from doing what is unpopular.

How many times have we heard cuts must be made because they’re imposed from above? But it’s not true that ‘Britain is broke’, as she recently said. The country has money. It has money for war. It has money for yet more government spin doctors – or propagandists and liars, as they should really be called. It has money to pack more expenses-claiming cronies into the House of Lords. These are just a few examples where the cash flows.

Yes, the country has money. What is at issue is how it chooses to spend it. This government’s priorities are all wrong. The Council’s meek acceptance of them is all wrong too.

Originally published in the letter pages of The News.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.