Westminster council’s volunteer demands are dangerous. say critics

Westminster needs an ‘army’ of volunteers to fill the gap left by cuts in services

CUTS by Westminster Council will hit libraries, parks, street maintenance and children’s services, it was revealed this week.

An “army” of volunteers will be needed to fill in the gaps, critics have warned, as the cost-cutting measures slash through regular council services.

A document entitled ‘A Living City in Tough Times’ was released by Westminster Council on Friday revealing how they expect the voluntary sector to take up the slack in libraries with volunteers replacing some park staff, nursery workers and other public service workers.

Critics say the idea is “dangerous” and demands too much of too few people.

Former chairman of the Marylebone Association, Carl Upsall, said: “It is a dangerous policy and overestimates the number of volunteers out there.

“In my experience it’s always the same people taking on voluntary roles and there’s a limit to the amount of work they can do.”

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The document outlines plans for a 25 per cent reduction in expenditure over the next four years in response to the loss of local authority funding in Chancellor George Osborne’s recent spending review.

But leaked documents from a meeting of the High Level Group – which consists of Westminster councillors and senior officers – show a number of more drastic proposed cuts with even more expectation put on residents.

The documents propose a “50 per cent reduction in litter bins” and “a reduction in the frequency of collection rounds in residential areas” with residents taking “responsibility for cleansing the areas outside their properties”.

Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of Westminster Labour party, says Westminster’s Big Society programme is being used as an excuse for service cuts.

“The publications make it clear that they will cut services and an army of volunteers will be expected to pick up the role that experienced professionals currently take,” he said.

“Volunteers are being used to fill the gap left by the cuts – and volunteers who already work extremely hard are being asked to do even more.”

Councillor Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster Council, said the review was necessary in light of the current financial climate.

“The future direction of local service provision, and indeed of our society as a whole, lies in its people,” he said.

“Some critics scoff at the notion that people are prepared to give up their time for free to make their local areas better places to live. But tell that to the 91 people who volunteer in our local libraries, without whom we would not be able to run the array of services that we do.

“The delivery of our Living City programme will belong to the people.”

He added that specific service cuts have not yet been decided and some proposals will be developed into council policy while others will be disregarded.

Westminster also came under fire this week for spending �2million to put 50 more traffic wardens on the streets at the same time as reporting their limited resources.

The move will see the borough’s traffic enforcement numbers reach its maximum capacity, but the council insists it is a temporary measure while new technology is introduced.

Cllr Lee Rowley said “every single penny” of surplus income generated through parking is reinvested back into transport projects and the increase in wardens will just take the numbers back to last year’s total.

Elsewhere, the council has announced plans to increase its transparency by publishing all spending above �500 on its website in a move to improve trust among its constituents.