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Friday, 30 October 2015

Volunteers and Employment Risk

Public Libraries News, which is the leading source of information on UK public libraries, has an interesting piece about the risks of volunteer libraries.  These apply not just to libraries but also other kinds of "Big Society" solutions to public services.

I had quite a lot to do with various "Big Society" campaigns in Brent.  Some of these were proposals related to libraries, but there were other kinds such as the Charteris Sports Centre, that threw up much of the same issues.  What struck me about many of these proposals was firstly the very optimistic assumptions that tended to be made, and (more surprisingly) the refusal to consider the kind of issues in the PLN piece.  Such queries were often dismissed as "red tape" or "bureaucratic" when in fact they were sensible attempts to forestall potential problems.

The issues of responsibilities regarding volunteers is really crucial to any kind of "Big Society" solution.  I can't envisage how any such solution would work without a quasi-employment relationship for the volunteers.  In order to make sure a building was open at certain hours, for instance, you would have to have an obligation by volunteers to turn up at that time.  That then creates the potential legal issues mentioned in the PLN article.  These are on top of the various other issues that may crop up.

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