House of Commons - Transport - Minutes of Evidence

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Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379) M R D AVID J AMIESON MP, PHIL H OPE MP AND F IONA M ACTAGGART MP 2 M ARCH 2005 Q360 Chairman: For example, take the north of Scotland. There is already a very strong Search and Rescue need, but that is going to develop, is it not, and there is going to be much more offshore oil and many more gas projects? Mr Jamieson: Yes, indeed. Q361 Chairman: Would you not think your timetable was a little leisurely? Mr Jamieson: Not at all, because the provision we have at the moment is a very good provision. The way it is operated, in the two examples I gave the operation of it was exemplary, and I see them operating. Of course, they tend to be busiest in the part of the country that I represent, it is one of the busiest parts of the coast, and we see them working very, very well together, in good harmony and very effectively. Q362 Chairman: Do you think you are wise to rely quite so heavily on volunteers for emergency Search and Rescue services? Mr Jamieson: I think the volunteers, certainly the auxiliary coastguards, of whom there are 3,500, are highly-trained people who give enormous service to the local communities and to the country. Very often, they are people with excellent knowledge of the local coastline, they are people whose families sometimes have had generations living in the community and they know the tides, they know the beaches, they know the cliffs, these are people who voluntarily give a lot of help and assistance to the professionals. I think they are excellent. The RNLI, of course, again, are exemplary in the work that they do, again a totally non-professional organisation but people with the very highest skills and enormous dedication and bravery. Q363 Chairman: You do not think it is true that they are finding it increasingly difficult to get volunteers? Mr Jamieson: I think that is true. There are difficulties now, especially in this country, with so many people employed, with such a successful economy that we have, there are difficulties getting people. All of the voluntary organisations, not just in this area but across other areas as well, are having that difficulty. Q364 Chairman: Even though they are exemplary, they are becoming fewer in number and you are relying very heavily upon them? Mr Jamieson: We rely very heavily upon them, but currently we are reviewing certainly the auxiliary coastguards to promote them, to promote the activity and to make sure we get the number of recruits that we want. At the moment, we do not have a shortage. We always have some vacancies but we do not have a shortage. Q365 Chairman: You think that auxiliary coastguards should be promoted, rather than that you should deal with the problem of whether or not you have got the structure right? Mr Jamieson: I think the structure is right. What we want to make sure of is that we keep sufficient numbers of people to do the job and fill the vacancies there are around the coast. Q366 Chairman: Now we come to you, Madam. What is the Government doing to encourage volunteering? Fiona Mactaggart: This is the Year of the Volunteer. Q367 Chairman: Yes, we have been informed of that. Fiona Mactaggart: It is a very important opportunity to increase volunteer recruitment and to increase the investment in assisting organisations to manage volunteers, because at times that has been a struggle for a number of organisations, including the ones which are involved in Search and Rescue. There has been progress on volunteer recruitment. The Home Office Citizenship Survey shows that formal volunteering, this sort of volunteering, increased from 39% of the population in 2001 to 42% in 2003. We are in touch with the organisations involved and, in large part, not in every area, there are more would-be volunteers than there are places for them. There are, of course, specific areas where there is a challenge, remote rural areas where there is an elderly population, areas where it is difficult to get buy-in from employers to release employees to voluntary situations. Q368 Chairman: Is not that increasingly the case? Fiona Mactaggart: That is a situation, in particular, that latter one, that we are seeking to tackle through the Corporate Challenge, which is a partnership between business and Government, trying to ensure that, for example, when businesses are trying to score on corporate social responsibility, and so on, their willingness to release people is one of the things which is recognised, also working with business in the community on small companies. Very often, I think, in these rural areas, it is very small companies, the person who is the employee is keeping the shop open, or something, it is not a company which has maybe 100 people doing the same job, it is a company which has one person doing one job, so trying to work with them to get them proper rewards for their goodwill, as a business, contributing in this way. Q369 Chairman: Monetary rewards? Fiona Mactaggart: We are not considering at present monetary rewards. Q370 Chairman: What sorts of rewards would they get then except credit in heaven? Fiona Mactaggart: Public recognition, ways of scoring the good value that they contribute in their goodwill, which is a marketable commodity in many of these businesses, particularly in, for example, the leisure and tourism industry, and so on, which are very relevant here, so getting that kind of recognition. Also, of course, we are looking at what kinds of contributions can count towards tax breaks in donations. Our big investment in tax breaks is to encourage charitable giving and that is basically charitable giving of money. That is one of the things which can be considered. Q371 Chairman: Minister, these are tough problems, you know. They are not going to be dealt with by kind of nice, soft, gentle suggestions, are they; if we do not have enough volunteers for the emergency services, emergency services do not exist? Fiona Mactaggart: That is absolutely true, and in the vast majority of areas there are enough. The reason I was seeking to interject earlier was the use of the word "professional". One of the very important things for most volunteers is that they might be voluntary but also they can be very professional in what they do, exemplary, in terms of the levels of skill and the achievement that they attain. The word "professional" has more than one meaning and I wanted to interject about the recognition of the intense professionalism which people contribute voluntarily. Q372 Chairman: Minister, forgive me. Nobody argues with you about how professional they are. If they do not exist, it does not matter whether they are professional or not. What evidence do you have that people are volunteering on the scale they used to? How many organisations have you consulted about whether they are able to recruit the same number of volunteers? What particular estimates have been made by the Home Office of certainly the relationship between emergency services? Frankly, if volunteers do not come forward, Britain has treaty obligations which would mean that you would need to supply a, forgive me, "professional" service. Kind words and suggestions about tax breaks with employers we might think are admirable, in fact we might even give them a framed certificate, but if there are not enough people volunteering really it is a waste of time, is it not? Fiona Mactaggart: We have been directly in touch with the RNLI, the ACS and similar organisations. Q373 Chairman: They have assured you they have quite enough volunteers? Fiona Mactaggart: No. They have said that in the majority of their centres they have more then enough volunteers, but there are exceptions to that general picture. What we are looking at is, with the investment that we are putting into the volunteering infrastructure through the Year of the Volunteer, one of the jobs is recruiting and persuading people who have not volunteered traditionally to find ways of volunteering, to volunteer. These organisations have not used traditionally, for good reasons, the volunteering infrastructure as a recruitment method. As Mr Jamieson said, they have had traditions in their communities where word of mouth type recruitment, and so on, has been very appropriate and traditionally has kept up sufficient volunteering. In a minority of cases that is not sufficient at present. That is why we are looking to the extra infrastructure and we are investing £80 million in the voluntary sector infrastructure, including specific volunteering infrastructure, in helping people to manage volunteers and to recruit volunteers, encouraging these organisations, in those small number of areas where they find this challenging, to work with that infrastructure, which traditionally they have not done, to recruit new volunteers. Q374 Chairman: Would you be astonished if I told you that when we asked Mountain Rescue, who are very professional, "Do you feel that the Government appreciates the work you do?" we were informed "No"? Fiona Mactaggart: I am not astonished, because the work they do is extraordinary and I think it would take a great deal to appreciate sufficiently the extraordinariness of it. They are heroes, and one of the ambitions that we have in the Year of the Volunteer is to celebrate the heroes who volunteer. Q375 Chairman: Frankly, what does that mean, Minister, "to celebrate the heroes"? The world, God help us, is full of heroes, all of them male. How are we going to celebrate the heroes? Fiona Mactaggart: By doing things like giving them medals. Q376 Chairman: Oh, I see. The Mountain Rescue people told us that the Government was singularly unappreciative, it more or less implied that it had no very clear view of what they were doing, nor did it seek to provide the support that actually they need. They are very concerned about health and safety at work. They were told that there were real problems, because the regulations do not apply to Mountain Rescue volunteers because they are volunteers, and we are going to give them a medal. Do you feel that is an appropriate response? Fiona Mactaggart: On the issue of health and safety, you were asking how we could celebrate and appreciate volunteers. Q377 Chairman: Yes, to encourage the numbers? Fiona Mactaggart: Yes, indeed. Volunteers do not want to be given money, they do want to be given a "thank you", they do want to be recognised. I have described some of the ways in which we are recognising them. Also, they want appropriate investment in making it easy to become a volunteer and I have described the way in which we are seeking to do that. In addition, we are trying to help organisations with issues like the one you highlighted, which is recognising what responsibilities they have in relation to things like health and safety and insurance, and so on. On health and safety, the Health and Safety at Work Act does not apply to volunteers, but clearly voluntary organisations require health and safety practices, if they are not their own, they require mechanisms to develop health and safety training. Now that is a very challenging thing in Mountain Rescue. A standard package would not work for them, but the role in which Government can help here is by making sure that they are aware of legal obligations and making sure that they are supported in dealing with some of the legal complications. One of the things which I have done recently is called together a summit of volunteer-involving organisations about the legal status of volunteers, because health and safety is one example of some of the challenges which legal status creates, there are challenges in terms of people's rights under employment law, and so on. That has happened. We have got better clarity. We are establishing good guidance for people, better information about insurance, which is going to be, first of all, the Association of British Insurers. We have had a series of meetings with them through an Insurance Cover Working Group and they are producing a booklet and guidance and advice for voluntary organisations. Q378 Chairman: Should health and safety requirements made of statutory emergency services, should they be involved in Search and Rescue, be more clearly defined, do you think? Fiona Mactaggart: I am not competent, I think, to answer the health and safety point, in terms of statutory emergency services specifically, but the health and safety law relates to employees. Q379 Chairman: Can I just stop you there. I will give you an example, because I think it is important you should realise the evidence which I would have thought would have been made available to you. We were told by the Chief Fire Officers' Association that, following the death of a fire-fighter who was trying to rescue a young man from the water, discussions with the HSE were sometimes unhelpful. They were saying, when they ask "What is best practice? Is that sound?" the reply they get is, "Well, actually it's your responsibility to deal with it." With the greatest will in the world, would it not be better to sort out that rather than worry about giving them medals? Fiona Mactaggart: The Health and Safety Executive's responsibility for health and safety law is to act as an inspectorate of health and safety law. My colleague, Mr Hope, is responsible for the Fire Service and probably he will know much better than I exactly how that operates within that Service. What we are trying to do, and I think it is important to understand this, is assist the voluntary sector, for which the health and safety law, which is about health and safety at work, does not apply, to develop appropriate health and safety practices for the kind of volunteering that they have. Also, to ensure that insurance companies are aware of what those sorts of health and safety practices appropriately are in order to diminish insurance charges, so that we can enable organisations to do this without being at risk of enormous insurance premiums, which is an issue in this sector and an important one. Also, to get better health and safety practice and better communication so that it works better.









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Prepared 7 June 2005

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House of Commons - Transport - Minutes of Evidence

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