UK leader puts volunteerism 'at the heart' of his vision for Britain
25 July 2007
London, UK: UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown put volunteering and community activism at the heart of his vision of the "British way of life", matching a commitment to celebrate society's "everyday heroes" with promises of investment in small neighbourhood groups and social campaigners.
In a speech in London today which heavily emphasised his core beliefs in the value of service, commitment, civic duty and neighbourliness, the prime minister said the voluntary sector played a critical role in bringing together communities and generating progressive social change - and said the government must do more to support it.
In an acknowledgement that young people are increasingly turning away from formal political structures in favour of single issue campaigns, he promised to explore ways of changing rules which currently prevent charities from political campaigning, and pledged to set up a new council on social action and an annual global forum to "stimulate the pursuit of social change".
He outlined a number of initiatives to encourage and support small community groups and charities, including giving £117m over three years to fund volunteering placements for young people - what he called a "national youth community service for Britian" - together with £80m of grants, and £50m of endowments made over to "local foundations" which would generate income for local bodies.
There will be £85m for community group training and skills development. Mr Brown gave a commitment to let community groups take control of unused council assets such as village halls, and a strong hint that he would use the hundreds of millions of pounds left "dormant" in bank accounts and held by high street banks, to create a social investment bank.
A separate Cabinet Office and Treasury report on the third sector, published today, promises more support for charities and social enterprises which want to compete to provide public services.
Mr Brown said the fabric and norms of British society were under pressure from a range of challenges, from terrorism and environmental change to globalisation, and that many of the traditional forms of community expression, through town halls and churches were in decline.
But new associations, from mother and toddler groups to sports clubs and organisations for older people, together with new forms of technology based social networks, made him optimistic that communal bonds were still strong and that people were still committed to social good.
Mr Brown paid tribute to the "people who make a difference" to society - the carers, volunteers, mentors and community leaders who "willingly give up their time to build a better society for us all" by running local sports teams, or helping out in schools, fundraising for charity or joining local recycling campaigns.
He said: "Some of their activities may be new to our times, but they are all rooted in the timeless values of the good society: a society where we all feel a part of, and play a part in, something bigger than ourselves."
In a key passaqe he seemed to invite comparison with Mrs Thatcher's notorious eighties comment "there is no such thing as society". He said: "This is my idea of Britain and Britishness today - not the individual on his or her own living in isolation sufficient unto himself but the individual with a sense of belonging that expands outwards as we grow from family to friends and neignbourhood; a sense of belonging that then ripples outwards again from work, school, church and community and eventually outwards to far beyond our home town and region to define our nation and country as a society."