Headlines: September 26th, 2008

Council tenants who want to become involved in improving the estates on which they live may get the right to time off work so they can do so. The idea is included in plans to be unveiled by the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears in a move to make it easier for more people to volunteer for key roles in their local communities.

At the moment people who serve as magistrates, school governors or on health bodies and police authorities already have entitlements to time off. Now Hazel Blears is to look at extending such entitlement to other roles. The aim is to reflect modern life and the needs of local communities by emphasising the roles that are available and to encourage more people from all walks of life to participate.

The proposals include extending time off entitlement to those who want to help young offenders, or to make sure local courts and probation services meet the needs of their communities and to council tenants who want to take an active role in the management of their estates. The proposals have been drawn up in the light of figures which show that although almost three-quarters of adults volunteered at least once in the last 12 months, the average age of probation board members is 60 for men and 59 for women, 70 per cent of youth offending panel members are over 45 and there are only two court board members in the country who are under 35.

Ms Blears said the level of volunteering showed community spirit had not disappeared but the demands of modern life meant people who wanted to participate in more formal roles found this difficult as such tasks had to be fitted into already busy schedules. “If people are prepared to give their time and talents we need to ask what more we can do to acknowledge and support that. The more people of different genders, ages and backgrounds we can get involved in decision making in communities the better,” she said.