Call for stay-at-home gap-year volunteers – BBC

Reform Scotland said gap-year students should be encouraged to volunteer at home

A scheme to help gap-year students and others carry out voluntary work at home rather than abroad should be created in Scotland, a think-tank has said.

Reform Scotland said that hundreds of students sign up for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) each year.

However, they claim that many more would be interested in volunteering if they did not have to go abroad.

The think-tank made the recommendation following a four-month consultation into the voluntary sector.

In 2008 the voluntary sector had an annual income of about £4.1bn, employing 130,000 paid staff – approximately 5% of the Scottish workforce.

In addition to this, Reform Scotland said about 1.3 million adults act as volunteers.

But the think-tank said a Voluntary Service at Home scheme could help extend that number even further.

It suggested the initiative would allow gap-year students and others to become involved in Scots-based charity work rather than expending their efforts overseas.

‘Genuine alternative’

Reform Scotland added: “A Voluntary Service at Home scheme would need some sort of co-ordinating organisation, similar to the way in which Project Trust sends about 200 volunteers to 25 countries annually to undertake charity work.”

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In Scotland, we need to reach a situation where public services are provided by those organisations which best meet the needs and wishes of people and local communities.”

The organisation has also called for voluntary sector bodies to be able to set up new, publicly funded, independent schools, which would provide an “alternative to local authority provision”.

Reform Scotland argued that hospitals and other community health providers should become independent, not-for-profit trusts – which would be part of the voluntary sector. They would also be able to set up new bodies to provide healthcare.

The report said: “All this would expand the role of the third sector in Scotland greatly and create a genuine alternative to public sector provision.”

One of the report’s authors, Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said: “The voluntary sector has the expertise and the potential not only to improve efficiency, but also to improve quality.

“In Scotland, we need to reach a situation where public services are provided by those organisations which best meet the needs and wishes of people and local communities. Sometimes this will be the public sector.

“However, where the voluntary sector can contribute, we should endeavour to remove all barriers.”

owne3� h�~�rs, people living in these areas, and have direct patient representation on their boards to ensure they are run in their interests. 

These organisations would be specifically charged with ensuring the provision of essential local services such as accident and emergency and primary care as well as ensuring that patients were given a choice about the care they received.

Their role would be as champions of patients, disseminating the relevant information on health outcomes and quality of care so that patients and their GPs can make an informed choice based on the performance of the different providers. The system would be funded by taxpayers’ money, as at present, but this money would flow through the system based on the choices of patients with the NHS tariff for each treatment following the patient to the provider of his or her choice.

Although we have advocated that existing NHS hospitals and providers of community healthcare should become independent, not-for-profit trusts, we acknowledge that this should happen only over time. 

Health boards would, therefore, still be providers of healthcare in their areas. However, separating the commissioning of healthcare from its provision would remove potential conflicts of interest and encourage a wider range of healthcare providers. 

Patients could continue to choose a public sector provider and no doubt many would do so. But the barriers to new providers from the public sector (such as local authorities), voluntary sector and private sector would be removed.

The voluntary sector is well placed to take advantage of this opportunity as it has a proven track record in aspects of health and social care.

This would be fair to all concerned and mean that the way our health service developed was in the hands of patients and not politicians. That is exactly how it should be because it would lead to a better health service for all of us living in Scotland.

• Geoff Mawdsley is director of Reform Scotland, an independent, non-party think-tank that aims to set out better ways of delivering more effective public services