Paul Boissier, chief executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), has told the Times that David Cameron’s Big Society agenda has contributed no added value to the voluntary sector, repeating his criticisms of the Big Society in this month’s Charity Finance’s Chief Executives Survey.
Boissier, who has led the RNLI for the past two years, following a long career in the Navy, wrote in the Times that what people described as the ‘Big Society’ had been happening for a long time and did not need the assistance of politicians:
“If I understand the Big Society, it is about engaging members of the public to get involved in their communities. Well, the public has been doing that for a long time. Of course, we and other charities would say more volunteers are very welcome, but to be quite honest we don’t need the assistance of politicians to do that,” he said.
“The people who are motivated to do it are doing it already and I’m not sure what the value added has been in making it part of political debate.”
His comments echo criticisms made this month in Charity Finance’s biennial survey of chief executives at the largest 100 charities. The survey quizzed chief executives on their views on the Big Society. Half did not think the initiative had been positive for the voluntary sector, while 20 per cent were unsure – the remaining 30 per cent believed it had been positive.
Boissier said in the survey: “There is no perceivable value from where I sit – and it has to some extent politicised everyday business.”
Money going to charities, not government coffers
Further, Boissier told the Times that charities ran services better than Whitehall, and if the government really wanted to help the voluntary sector it would “go easy” on taxation, referring to the 2.5 per cent rise in VAT to 20 per cent: “The people who give money to charities want to see it go to good works, not into the government coffers. We do our best here to serve the public, not to help the government finances out,” he said.
The Times describes Boissier’s criticism as a “severe blow” to the credibility of the Big Society and claims that his frustration is widely shared in private by other charity chief executives who are reluctant to voice disappointment as they rely on central or local government grants.
RNLI relies solely on voluntary income, and receives no funding from government.
Ending the story, Times social affair correspondent Rosemary Bennett, suggests:
“The Prime Minister must now decide whether to give the project another push in his Tory conference speech next month or quietly drop it.”