A reserve army of volunteers should be created to help respond to future national emergencies from pandemics to fires, floods, and environmental disasters, according to a report commissioned by the UK prime minister.
The report, written by Danny Kruger, the Tory backbench MP and former political secretary to Boris Johnson, also calls for a bigger role for volunteers and faith groups in public services such as the NHS, social care and criminal justice.
Kruger, who was asked by Johnson to come up with ideas on how to build on the huge surge in volunteering during the coronavirus lockdown, called for a new “social covenant” where citizens, the state and civil society worked together “for the good of all”.
Describing his proposals as “radical in a conservative way” Kruger said power over local decision-making and public services should be stripped from “remote public and private bureaucracies” and handed to local people and communities.
The prime minister stopped short of endorsing the report but described it as “comprehensive and hugely ambitious,” containing “many exciting ideas” which were actively being considered by government.
The most eye-catching proposal, the creation of a national volunteer reserve, would be underpinned by a volunteer passport system enabling people who have been criminal records-checked to move swiftly into voluntary roles.
Other proposals to boost civil society include:
A national youth community service scheme under which 100,000 young people would be paid to carry out environmental clean-up and community restoration projects.
A £2bn “levelling-up fund”, supported by cash from dormant insurance accounts and allocated to community projects in deprived “left behind” areas.
An annual “Neighbour Day” bank holiday to enable neighbourhoods to celebrate together, with street parties and inter-generational get-togethers in care homes.
Kruger, who was elected as MP for Devizes in 2019, is an old Etonian, former Daily Telegraph leader writer and David Cameron speechwriter who founded two grassroots youth charities before becoming a Whitehall policy advisor on civil society under Theresa May.
He said a boost to social infrastructure was necessary after years of austerity cuts to council budgets, and closures of youth services, parks, and leisure services. This, coupled with economic changes that had driven the closures of local pubs, shops and post offices, had depleted community assets and amenities, he said.
“To build back better we need a new economic and social model to replace the one that preceded the [Covid] crisis. Because before the crisis hit, our communities were in trouble,” the report said.
Kruger was dismissive of the ‘big society’, the ill-fated initiative set up by Cameron in 2011 to encourage more involvement in civil society, saying it failed to convince the public that it was anything more than a cover for austerity cuts.
Kruger, an active Christian, said faith groups should be allowed to work more closely with public services. Faith groups have been the victims of “faith-phobia” when it comes to the giving out state grants and contracts, he argued.
Although Kruger was critical of some public services, he acknowledged that they could not be replaced by voluntary or mutual aid groups. “There is a difference between collecting a bag of shopping for someone, and meeting the needs of a family facing a combination of bereavement, unemployment and mental ill health,” he said.
Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council For Voluntary Organisations, said: “We agree with [Kruger’s] assessment that given the right support charities and volunteers are integral to supporting communities during the next wave of coronavirus and during the long recovery period that will follow.”