Voluntary sector is "dangerous for democracy" 28/11/08

“The voluntary Sector is dangerous for democracy”, warned Guardian columnist and chairman of the National Trust, Simon Jenkins, when he delivered the annual Hinton Lecture on behalf of NCVO at the Law Society.

"We are sliding into the kind of society where one votes every four out of five years, and that's it," he told a voluntary sector audience of around 80 NCVO membership organisations.

Jenkins was giving the 11th Hinton Lecture, delivered each year in memory of Nicholas Hinton, a distinguished former CEO of NCVO, who died in 1997.

Jenkins warned the audience that previous lecturers had said how wonderful the voluntary sector was, but that he was going to say the opposite.

He said: "Clearly most people in Britain regard participation in voluntary organisations as a surrogate democracy - you're either with the Rotary Club or the Women's Institute or Oxfam or the NSPCC, and that's your bit for society.”

Jenkins argued that successive governments had removed real power from local councils and started consulting ‘stakeholders’ such as professional groups, lobbyists and voluntary organisations.

"They say people don't like local councils and that the new participatory democracy is civil society. I find this very dangerous. Britain is unique in the way it has eroded local participatory democracy.

"We have lost this link between people and elected representatives through the ballot, and the manifestation of what I'm objecting to is you - the voluntary sector. You are the victors, local government is the vanquished."

A commemorative collection of previous Hinton lectures given over the last ten years has been published to coincide with this year’s annual lecture.

From the Archbishop of Canterbury to Baroness Warnock, Ed Miliband to David Cameron, the range of speakers reflect the broad church of views on the voluntary sector.

These have now been collected in a special edition, and stand out as a thought-provoking and stimulating statement about what the voluntary sector stands for.

Copies of the Hinton Essay collection will soon be available via the NCVO website ( priced £30 (£18 for non-members).

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