An established volunteer programme is the foundation on which your force's involvement of volunteers should be based.
Establishing a programme board or steering group to oversee the development of the programme is advisable. They will have responsibility for developing the vision and strategic direction, discussing legal implications, funding, policy development, monitoring and evaluation, and the appointment of a programme manager.
The programme board should comprise representatives from key internal business groups:
It is recommended that a representative from the voluntary sector is also invited onto the board to advise on general volunteer management good practice. Support may also be required from other specialist groups to provide expert advice on particular issues.
It should be recognised at an early stage that volunteers are not cost-free. Although volunteers bring added value to the force and are a cost-effective way of delivering services, there are significant costs associated with volunteering and include:
Clarify the role of volunteers with a set of principles that include:
While volunteering is based on informality, flexibility and innovation, it is important to provide guidance to ensure quality and consistency. A written policy should be agreed by the programme board in consultation with stakeholders. It will:
The policy should clarify what both parties can expect from the relationship. It is recommended that the policy is supported by a set of management guidelines, to show:
Concern has been expressed about the legal status of volunteers and the implications this may have. It is commonly accepted that volunteers should not enter into any form of legally binding agreement or contract, either in writing or verbally, that would suggest the presence of an employment relationship.
A contract of employment is created when an individual agrees to undertake a task in return for something, usually of economic value, legally referred to as 'consideration'. If this rule is applied to volunteers, then a contract could be argued to have been created where the volunteer receives anything of economic value, for example training unrelated to their role, 'expenses' that are not related to actual documented expenditure, gift vouchers, membership of police sports and social clubs, etc.
Volunteers who receive such consideration may well be regarded as working under a contract of employment. This means they may be entitled to relevant workers' and employees' rights, which could have significant implications for the force.
Recent volunteer-related employment tribunal rulings have highlighted the confusion surrounding this issue but, following an appeal decision (which set a precedent) on 17 November 2003, the situation does appear to be gaining some clarity.
Based on the decision of the employment appeal tribunal, it would appear that police support volunteers are unlikely to be seen as working under a contract provided they:
It is therefore important that these principles are adhered to when developing the programme. Terms that are indicative of an employment relationship should be avoided where possible in relation to volunteers, e.g. terms such as 'employer', 'employee', 'employment', 'contract', 'staff', 'workers', etc. Advice and guidance should be sought from the force legal department and from local and national voluntary sector networks who are experienced in these matters.
It is therefore essential that careful consideration is given to the development of any volunteer management systems to ensure they do not suggest an employment relationship.
Forces may wish to consider the appointment of a programme manager with responsibility for the strategic direction, development and management of the programme. This individual will act as a champion for volunteers and advocate on their behalf. They will also participate in programme board meetings and act as a link between the members.
As the programme develops and expands, it may be necessary to consider the appointment of additional posts. The potential for growth should be clearly identified in budget forecasts to enable required funds to be made available at appropriate times. This requires a clear understanding of the vision of the volunteer programme and careful forward planning.
A project board will oversee development of the operational processes and procedures needed to run the programme effectively. This should have a close link with the programme board to ensure strategy and policy are effectively translated into practice. The programme manager should attend both the programme and project board meetings to ensure this close link is maintained. The project board should include:
Specific support may also be required from other departments to provide advice on particular issues, e.g. data protection, literature development.
National Occupational Standards for Volunteer Managers, available here
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