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Voluntary Sector and Social Enterprise — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:58 am on 21st June 2012.

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Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 11:58 am, 21st June 2012

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on providing us with this opportunity to debate issues involved in voluntary service and social enterprise. I am sure that most of us have been actively involved in them through our political lives, have enjoyed the work and continue to do so. However, the noble Baroness defined what she thinks is voluntary, and perhaps it is being exploited. I wish to draw attention to the dangers that are beginning to develop as voluntary labour is brought into the commercial sector and is governed by contract, not community feeling, and profit. That is an important issue for us to consider.

Problems are developing with a big pool of unemployed people being asked to do voluntary work, whether it is voluntary in the sense that you agree to it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, or voluntary in the sense of military service when you are told that this is what you will do. When I see the pool of the unemployed and the mandatory work policies being brought in by the Government-and all Governments have been involved in some part of welfare to work-I worry that the schemes that are developing at present are putting greater pressure on unemployed people to volunteer.

A classic example of that happened quite recently under London Bridge, where a number of young people were dumped under the most difficult circumstances. It was during the Jubilee celebrations, and they did not enjoy the wonderful experience that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has just referred to. To that extent, I want to address my remarks to the kind of development that is occurring in the name of voluntary contribution. In that case, it was people who were providing marshalling services at the Queen's Jubilee, which was a very important thing to do. Some were paid very lowly and some were given no pay and had to face the pressures applied in the name of the voluntary community. First, they were told, "Please come on this-we'll pay you", then when they got on to the bus were told, "No, we're not going to pay you". Secondly, they were told, "If you don't do this, you'll lose your benefit". A third factor was the incentive that they would probably get a job at the Olympics site at £8.70 an hour, which is quite interesting because that was part of the contract.

My concern is that this is now all about contracts and subcontract work. It is no longer a case of people working voluntarily in the community, but of saying to people, many of them young, "You've now been involved in this long-term. You're going to be offered a job that you can't refuse". It is almost like the Mafia kind of contract: "I'm going to offer you a contract that you can't refuse", and so you go into the system and work. I will stick to the one case that I am on about; it concerns a company called Close Protection UK that had the responsibility to train these people-not to pay them-and to put them on the to go and do marshalling services. That system is now being considered for fire marshalling work at the Olympics site, but I will come back to that in a second. The people got on the bus and suffered a number of indignities. I do not have time to go through them, because a lot of people want to speak in this debate, but clearly they did not have food or access to toilet facilities. It was a damp site to take a tent to as it was pouring down with rain-we all know the amount of rain there was then. Nobody seemed to care at all about those conditions, but we should be concerned if more and more people are being put into that situation when hoping to get from welfare to work. We should not just exploit them by saying that the work is unpaid.

My worry is that the contract given to this company by the London authorities and others to bring in people to work as marshals was for £1.5 million. If that is the case with work experience, why was a condition not laid down in the contract that all the workers has to be paid a certain amount, as is the requirement for the Olympics? If that is not done, companies are more likely to make more profit by using people who are not paid. That is the concern beginning to develop around the exploitation of voluntary labour. Since there have been many reports in the papers, let me say that I have interviewed a lot of the young people who were involved in this and I have a lot of examples of what they said went on that night. It is true that there have been other examples of those who thought that it was a good experience, so there is some dispute, but it is important to find out what really went on.

With the development of these schemes, I worry that the big companies are getting millions and millions of pounds, as we recently saw with A4e. I think that the Government are already offering £2 billion to get these people off work-they are to be paid in some cases but not in others. There is a requirement for training, which sounds like a few hours a week of NVQ and is not very satisfactory. Basically, it means that these people are then pressed into playing a role. I think we are all aware of A4e, which is now involved in trying to show the numbers it got into jobs. In reality, fraud was involved and cases are under way. It is not limited to that company; it is the process of the contract work that is involved.

Let me take this example. Prospects, a private company, had a contract. It was in fact a non-profit company even under Labour, when it dealt with Ofsted. It then turned itself into a mutual company so that it could make profits and has made something like £11 million this year. The motivation then becomes not to public service but to the profitability of that investment by private companies. What begins to concern me is the conflict between the public interest involved and the private interest that is motivated by securing a profit. When the contract was given by a public authority to Prospects, it then had to go to a charity, Tomorrow's People, which became involved. It then rakes up the people for the south-west area and then goes to another body on another subcontract. They are the ones that have basically exploited the situation.

I do not have the time to go into all those difficulties, but they are now going to be offered the job of fire marshals-we are replacing firemen with fire marshals at the Olympics. I am worried about that. I have written to the Home Secretary. I have written to LOCOG, which set the contract. I cannot go into all the details of the replies but I can tell you that LOCOG is doing nothing about it; it is confirming the contract. If we are going to put our young people in the hands of these people, what we should be saying is, "Have we not got a responsibility for governance?". The lady who is in charge of this company has been done for perjury; she has had a number of companies. You would not trust any company with her, frankly. But now the inquiry is under way, we will see what the real facts are.

In conclusion-looking at the time, before the noble Baroness gets up to remind me; as I understand it, you can go to 10 minutes but I am not doing that.


Posted on 26 Jun 2012 3:49 pm (Report this annotation)

Prescott has the nerve to comment on a few people and not the others that enjoyed the experience. This is jolly coming from a man who's party spent 13 years destroying the country and have just apologised for doing so.
I wonder who wrote the speech for him as we all know he struggles with the English language.
No politician has the right to comment on CRB'S until they are CRB checked themselves !!