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Cameron pledges paid volunteering leave for public sector

The Conservatives have unveiled plans to give half of the UK’s workforce three day’s paid leave to volunteer each year, including those in the public sector. 

Revisiting the Big Society theme from the 2010 election, David Cameron is to announce that every public sector worker and anyone working in a company with at least 250 employees – more than 15 million people in total – would be entitled to the volunteering leave. 

Currently, full-time workers in the UK are entitled to 28 days’ paid leave a year, including bank holidays. However, Cameron says the Working Time regulations will be changed to entitle employees to 28 days' paid holiday and three days' paid volunteering or serving as a school governor. 

He said: “This election is about building a better future for our children and grandchildren.

“The foundation stone of that better future is our economic security. But Conservatives know the society we build on top of that is just as important too. 

“That's why today's announcement is a double win. It’s good for our economy, as it will help create a better, more motivated workforce. And it's good for our society, too, as it will strengthen communities and the bonds between us.” 

However, Labour has attacked the plans saying they would cost the economy millions of pounds. Shadow minister Lisa Nandy said: “Giving every public servant three extra days off could cost millions of pounds but there's no sense of how it will be paid for. 

“If just half of public sector workers took this up it would be the time equivalent of around 2,000 nurses, 800 police and almost 3,000 teachers. 

“Before the last election David Cameron made promise after promise about volunteering as part of his so-called big idea the ‘Big Society’ – he made this same promise in 2008 when he said he wanted to give public servants time off. Since then this has become just another broken promise, with volunteering falling under the Tories.” 

The plans have also divided opinion with some welcoming the proposals and others branding them “heavy handed” and “ludicrous”. 

For instance, Ryan Bourne, head of public policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the plan was another example of politicians imposing burdens on business and taxpayers for the sake of sounding caring. 

“At a time when everyone is telling us that the NHS and other services are overstretched, the idea that it should be a priority to allow public sector employees to take three days off for volunteering elsewhere, funded by the taxpayer, is ludicrous,” he said. 

This view was backed up by the Institute of Directors, which stated that the policy announced today does not appear to be have been thought through at all. “Passing a law to compel firms to pay their staff to volunteer for charity is hardly in keeping with the spirit of philanthropy,” it added. 

But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the move saying that the TUC has long called for a Community Day Bank Holiday to encourage volunteering and community engagement. 

“We therefore welcome any move that makes employers recognise the benefits of volunteering and social action,” she said. 

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, added that his organisation’s research shows that corporate volunteering benefits businesses and their employees, as well as the communities in which they work. 

“Today’s announcement raises important questions about how the three volunteering days will be administered and resourced,” he said. “We look forward to consulting with our members and inputting in terms of the details.” 

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